Looking outside the box: the value of sharing and collaborating with others
As technology becomes increasingly social, innovation can happen anywhere. People can take for granted the idea that they can work with others in the pursuit of a shared outcome. But public services need to do more to share knowledge and skills across this emerging space because the dissemination of innovative ideas will support the spread of knowledge and is a good way of sharing skills and expertise.
However this is not just about how public services work better with others within their organisation, but how they adopt a more open approach and work collaboratively with people from other areas, sectors or specialisms.
One of the key audiences at this point is the digital specialists that will help develop these new collaborative tools. Public service professionals are not often experts in collaborative technologies; digital innovators are often unfamiliar with the public sector. Bring the two sides together though and what you get is a much more effective and collaborative way of developing digital innovations that stand a chance of succeeding and this was why, as a condition of their involvement in Reboot Britain, all digital specialists were expected to partner with a public service provider.
There is also much to be gained from learning, collaborating and building effective partnerships with professionals in other sectors as this is a good way of getting instant feedback, gaining wider reflections from outside the system where the innovation will happen, and building support.
The FLiP team, for example, benefited from involving a third sector partner as they were willing to test new approaches and could respond much more quickly to the demands of prototyping and trialling the new service than their public sector partners; while Future You has benefited from involving a range of partners from the public, voluntary and private sectors not only when it was being developed, but also as it has subsequently been launched and rolled out across the country.
By opening up the development process you also open up the possibility that you will spot new and alternative uses for the digital tools that are being developed, because solutions are often transferrable and can be easily replicated in other areas. Sidekick Studios is now looking at adapting Buddy for other cognitive behaviour therapies, FutureGov hope Patchwork will eventually be used to connect professionals around any vulnerable individual or family, while Beat Bullying has received further funding through the Social Action Fund to deliver the software that sits behind the Future You platform to other civil society organisations.
As public services start to embrace further experimentation with digital collaborative tools the sector needs to become more efficient and effective at sharing successes and supporting digital tools that indicated they have the potential to bring about significant social impact. Some innovations, such as LIFE, Buddy, Patchwork and Future You, which are already being taken to scale, will get taken up by other public service providers. However, significant numbers of service providers will opt to develop their own digital solution to a particular social need. This presents exciting opportunities not only to contribute to the on-going development of a platform, but also to take a stake in developing approaches and taking them to scale.
Though the initial investment to develop working prototypes was provided by Nesta, some of the Reboot programmes have subsequently received additional funding from their public service partners. Patchwork has received further funding from Staffordshire County Council, Lichfield District Council and South Staffordshire District Council. Buddi is continuing to work in partnership with Herefordshire Police and intend to roll the programme out to more offenders; while the NHS Confederation earns a commission when health authorities agree to purchase Buddy.
This means the service providers will assume some of the risk of trying to scale an initial prototype and take it to market. However it also opens up novel and new models of revenue generation, which means if a new technology proves successful, the funder will potentially be able to recoup their investment and may even make a profit. This is something that is surely worth considering in these financially challenged times.