New thinking about innovation

Avatar of AmbITion By AmbITion
16 December 2011

Innovation funding needs to meet the specific needs of cultural organisations and that isn’t always about creating something radical and new.

In a country with a deficit as bad as it was in 1945 after Britain had endured six years of world war, it is not surprising that innovation is seen as an essential component of helping Britain regain economic stability and achieve growth. Government and its arms-length agencies are investing heavily in innovation, hoping to unleash radical, transformatory creations. The nation’s universities are incentivised to innovate jointly with private and publicly funded businesses. NESTA’s research and development programmes further catalyse the notion of knowledge exchange for innovation. Innovation Lab and Culture Hack activities are increasing, opening up possibilities and encouraging cross-sector collaboration1. Discovering the new, radical and transformatory is the focus of funding which is underwriting the risk of the research and development. Developing collaborative relationships that enable nascent products to become economically viable is another purpose of current innovation investment. The innovation-specific investments available for the creative and cultural sector are explicitly for stimulating radical innovations (defined as bleeding-edge nascent products and processes that the world needs – or does not know it yet needs).

The creative and cultural sectors contain many organisations and individuals whose cognitive and imaginative capability to create the new, radical and transformatory is immense, so the investment appears on the surface to be well directed. However, the cultural sector specifically is further behind the curve in terms of their preparedness to embrace the opportunities of digital innovation than are organisations in the science, health, technology and biotechnology sectors. Funding for radical innovation is only relevant to organisations that are already skilled at innovating and who are ready for cross-sector collaborating. In the cultural sector in the UK, this is a relatively small percentage of cultural organisations, usually those who you would expect to be further ahead, because they’re bigger and have more leverage.

Many current products, processes and business models were designed during the industrial economy, and a large proportion of the cultural sector is still operating with the legacies of the nineteenth century industrial era. What the cultural sector needs now is additional innovation support to incentivise not just the creation of brand new products, processes and businesses, but also improvements to current products, processes and business models to make them progressively more suited to the digitised knowledge economy of the twenty-first century. Confidence, capacity and capability all need to be built, and organisations need to recreate product and services to be fit and relevant for doing business and making art now. But funds for this type of organisational development have dwindled. I celebrate the funding for radical and open innovation, but investment must not be diverted to innovation funds that only support radical innovations, at the expense of organisational development that might support a larger percentage of our industry. Innovation has to be for everyone. Successful radical innovations demand a sector-wide grounding in creative intrapreneurship – entrepreneurship within an organisation – and incremental innovation. It is that broader landscape of a collective mindset understanding the opportunities, aspiration and excitement of a radical innovation that creates a ripe environment for it to happen.

What we now need is a more nuanced understanding of the different types of innovation, and we need to offer support for all types:

• Incremental innovation uses existing forms or technologies as a starting point. It either makes incremental improvements to something or it reconfigures it so that it may serve some other purpose. For example, North Uist’s museum and arts centre Taigh Chearsabhagh worked to develop its social media and website presence by building in-house digital skills capacity. This has enabled them to become more open and dialogue-focused online, which has resulted in new conversations with new global audiences.

• Process innovation is when a process or service is improved, and this creates the opportunity to innovate a new development. For example, Glasgow’s Citizens Theatre improved its online box office system to become a fully functioning Customer Relationship Management system that now enables all sorts of possibilities for different communications and services for customers. The capability built up in the team through this development has resulted in them having the confidence to experiment with QR Codes – a matrix barcode that mobile phones can use to link a user to content.

• Regulated innovation is when the aims are fixed, rather than open. Innovations happen because a regulation – to follow a methodology – is imposed. For example, AmbITion encourages organisations to develop a holistic digital strategy following a specified methodology.

In Scotland, an understanding of these different types of innovation is growing. Digital organisational development programmes like AmbITion are supported by Creative Scotland to work together with NESTA Scotland’s digital research and development programme and Culture Hack Scotland’s radical innovation programme. Thus we ensure that we work cross-sector, together with the digital technology and interactive industries through events like Digital 2011. This mixed ecology of development opportunities, delivered by distinct programmes that work hard to join up opportunities for the participant organisations, ensures a healthy landscape for all forms of innovation. This can only strengthen the creative and cultural sector’s economy, audiences and art.

This article first appeared in Arts Professional, Issue 246.

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