Since then we’ve started the Fundamentals phase of the programme, where the teams get hands-on with using innovation approaches in their live challenges. This phase is comprised of three categories of experimentation - Explore, Trial & Error and Validate - and in our most recent training week we delved into the first topic, Explore.
Exploring new perspectives
The aim was to help the teams to open up the way they perceive and think about their challenge. Faculty member Joeri van der Steenhoven joined the core States of Change team to run the training, bringing with him vast practical experience in public innovation (MaRs Solution Lab, Kennisland, Kafka Brigade) and providing fresh perspectives on the challenges.
Throughout the week, the teams explored their challenge through various lenses or ‘frames’, structured around six principles of innovation: people, systems, facts, futures, problems, solutions. They were introduced to a range of innovation tools and techniques, helping them identify their assumptions, uncover their cognitive and social biases and (re)frame their challenge from different angles.
The ‘innovator’s mind’
On day one we started by discussing ‘the innovator’s mind’, and introduced three key concepts:
- Frames are ‘cognitive patterns’ that allow us to make sense of reality. They help us both see things and not see things. Our cultural and social backgrounds, education, experiences, roles, belief systems, etc. all determine how we frame reality.
- Mental models are representations in a person’s mind of the world (or a system) and how it works. They help us anticipate how a situation or system might look like in the future.
- Cognitive biases are thinking errors that people make when processing information, affecting the decisions and judgments they make. Many innovation tools and techniques help us to identify and challenge these biases.
These concepts inform (and misinform) decision-making in an innovation process. But often we’re not fully aware of how frames shape our perception, what mental models we hold, or how cognitive biases affect our thinking and judgement.
Going beyond words
This was followed by an exercise on 'visual thinking' (based on Dave Gray’s instructive video) to encourage participants to develop a new language to communicate ideas that goes beyond words (see the cheat sheet) .
We find that people often say "I can’t draw", but the exercise helped participants to build their confidence as visual thinkers. Crucially, participants had to put these new skills into practice on a real communication challenge shortly after. Each team was tasked with creating a poster summarising their revised challenge statement and key insights using only a maximum of 75 words. That forced them to use their sketching skills and express themselves in a different, more metaphorical way, instead of using words and bureaucratic, abstract language.
This theme of the importance of language resonated strongly throughout the week. A lot has happened since the teams created their initial project titles in February and, having explored different ways to ‘frame’ their challenges, we’ve now asked some teams to consider updating their project titles.
Working through the six principles
On the following three days we worked through the six principles of innovation, with teams doing hands-on exercises, experiencing tools and techniques, and developing their skills to explore their challenge from different angles. This included:
- Undertaking an issue mapping activity to take a more systemic view of their challenge. This helped teams to 'zoom out' and look at the bigger picture, identifying issues that constitute their challenge and where potential leverage points may be.
- Developing ethnographic skills and getting comfortable with engaging people who are living the context of the teams’ challenges. Participants went out into 'the field' (in this case to Melbourne’s public transport hubs) to practice and refine their interview techniques.
- Looking at how teams might use data to identify assumptions and push the boundaries of what they currently know. This was facilitated by the Victorian Centre for Data Insights, an in-house unit within the Department of Premier and Cabinet.
- Exploring how to define a desired future and work back towards it. Teams completed a 'Back to the Future' exercise, where they created the headline news of 'The Page', imagining the world in 2022 where a project intervention had been successful.
- Approaching their challenge from different angles and perspectives. Teams re-worked and re-framed their challenges using different tactics (time, scale, deficit/assets, negative/positive, subject/object, presence/absence, paradigm shift, analogy, exaggeration).
- Doing a reflective exercise that promoted active sensing of the environment in order to make teams more receptive to finding existing solutions and assets. This was followed by a reverse engineering exercise to analyse and break down existing solutions into their constituent components, and consider what elements could be transferred to the context of the team’s challenge.
Focus on peer learning
Peer learning is a core concept of the programme, so throughout the week we complemented the skills-focused activities with reflective activities in order to strengthen participants’ bonds and relationships. For example, we started each morning – when the weather allowed us – with a couple of short reflective exercises in the park. The change of scenery took participants out of training mode and allowed them to take a step back and reflect on their learning experiences so far.
We also finished the week with a potluck lunch where participants brought in food to share. It was exciting to see that creating this safe space for reflection and social learning helped participants bond as a cohort and identify opportunities to collaborate during the programme and beyond.
On the final training day, the teams focused on planning their next steps, building in time for reflection as a team and rehearsing new rhythms and rituals. We also returned to the narrative of the programme, reflecting on their progress towards framing some new ‘unobvious’ questions that they ought to be asking.
Teams are now back in their offices, applying their skills in practice and doing further ‘in the field’ research to narrow down some testable interventions. From here, the cohort will reconvene in June to develop and design ways to test, prototype and co-create these possible interventions. During this ‘Trial and Error’ week, we look forward to being joined by States of Change faculty member Dominic Campbell, founder of FutureGov.
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