Stephen Bradley - 26.11.2012
Last week I was lucky to be invited to join a conference on skills development for the voluntary sector (Our People. Our Skills. Our Future.) at the CBI Centre here in London.
For a small conference, the quality of speakers was very impressive, ranging from Dame Mary Marsh, Director of the Clore Social Leadership Programme and Nick Hurd, Minister for Civil Society to Lorraine Heggessey, Former Controller of BBC1 and Professor Lord Victor Adebowale CBE, CEO of Turning Point.
What was so refreshing was not just how openly and passionately people were speaking about the challenges facing the voluntary sector, but also how ambitious they were to take the sector forward through a comprehensive strategy focusing on skills development. Nick Hurd made the point that the largest graduate recruiter is now TeachFirst. So, why not the same for the third sector (and why should it be called the third sector anyway, many wondered)?
The focus on managing and supporting talent and on skills development resonates strongly for us here at Nesta. As part of our mission to help organisations and individuals bring great ideas to life, we recently launched Open Workshop, an online platform which guides you and your organisation through the process of innovation. There are some specific tools and practices which can help organisations innovate, whether your challenge is developing new products, or new processes or systems.
Of course, the skills review for the third sector is much larger than developing skills for innovation, but what struck me last week was how much these opportunities and challenges have in common. Rather than the solitary pursuit of the mad professor in a dusty lab, innovation really involves lots of concerted teamwork and a deep understanding of your customer's needs. Everyone I spoke to at the conference has a deep belief in their service users and a strong drive to meet their needs. That's what drives every innovator I've met, whether they're designing new consumer products, or rethinking how to support families in crisis.
The other challenge we are all facing is how to balance bringing new initiatives to life with the real pressures of keeping the engines running, especially in the face of budgetary constraints and policy changes. In every sector I've worked in - from charities to commercial publishing to higher education - I always hear that the cuts we are facing are fiercer than ever before. And yet we carry on. I think there's a lot we can learn from other industries and from different worlds. I've never met an entrepreneur who didn't plead for more capital. I've never met an innovator in a large organisation who doesn't want more time and a larger team to bring their idea to life.
In the Open Workshop we try to bring together insights, methods, expertise and evidence from across a range of sectors from public services to hi-tech industries. We try to show how to use money, knowledge and power; how to use the specific tools that have been developed by fields like design or evaluation; how to nurture ideas and also how to take them to scale. I used to hear when I worked in books that publishing is a people business. I think every sector is a people business and the Our People. Our Skills. Our Future conference was a great reminder of why people are central to the voluntary sector, and how we must do everything we can to enable them to do their best for their people - their service users - or more simply, for all of us.