At the interactive strand of this year’s prestigious South By Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas, a group of senior Latin American policymakers designed and ran a special session on how to support innovative startups in the Pacific Alliance group of countries: Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Peru.
It was an engaging, informative event, and it might not have happened at all if three of the speakers hadn't met each other through their participation in the Global Innovation Policy Accelerator, a pioneering collaborative development programme for innovation policy leaders and managers, run by a Nesta-led consortium of UK organisations with deep expertise in innovation policy development.
On March 22 and 23, a group from the Policy Accelerator delivery team from the UK travelled to Valparaiso in Chile to facilitate the closing event of the pilot, run of the Global Innovation Policy Accelerator. We partnered with the British Council and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to design and deliver a UK-Pacific Alliance conference, to discuss innovation ecosystems and higher education.
This was a great opportunity for our Policy Accelerator teams to celebrate and communicate around their projects and the lessons drawn from participating in such a programme.
The first day of the event offered opportunities for some of our participants to represent their governments in speeches and on panels, while the second day had several dedicated Global Innovation Policy Accelerator sessions.
These were primarily attended by programme participants and offered the opportunity for teams to present their projects, question each other and reflect on the process, tracking their emotional and developmental journey through the programme and planning concrete next steps together.
Running the Global Innovation Policy Accelerator pilot has been a very intense experience - both for the participants and us as the delivery team, but that has also meant it’s been extremely rich in lessons.
We have learned a lot about how to run programmes like this one; around how to build relationships of trust, use design methods in new ways, and scale existing collaborations.
Trust and collaboration: At the end of the pilot run, participants overwhelmingly told us that the aspect of the programme that they valued the most was the personal and professional relationships they had forged. It took time and wasn’t always easy to build this trust, but the process was greatly facilitated by the way in which we structured the Accelerator. Most importantly, we created a safe space that removed participants from their day-to-day environments and work pressures. This gave them the chance to reflect more deeply on the challenges they were facing, and share lessons with each other about what was and wasn’t working. Spending sustained periods of time together over the course of nine months was also crucial. By the end of the final conference, participants were constructively candid with us and with each other in a way they hadn’t been at the start of the process.
Design: throughout the pilot we introduced the participants to a range of design concepts and tools (including participatory design, prototyping, personas and experience journey mapping) that we hoped would help them formulate and deliver new innovation policy projects in a way that would put end users at the centre. This was an experiment for us as well as for our participants. By observing how they reacted to these tools and the way they served each team differently in the development of their projects, we learned a great deal about when and how to use them in the future. Timing was key - at certain points, specific tools could be helpful for some teams, but could also create confusion and setbacks for others. For the expansion of the Accelerator to other countries over the next three years, we will therefore be thinking about how to tailor the use of design methods so that teams are supported to apply the tools that will be most effective at different stages of their projects.
Scale: a big take-away from running the first iteration of the Global Innovation Policy Accelerator has been the importance of collaborating at different levels, within organisations and within but also across countries. Our Accelerator participants have consistently told us how much they valued the opportunity to meet with their counterparts in different countries, in particular, once they realised how many common challenges they were facing in their organisations and national innovation systems. The Global Innovation Policy Accelerator pilot was an unprecedented and unique attempt at jump-starting three types of collaborations (within a national system, across the Pacific Alliance countries, and with the United Kingdom) and piloting a successful model for doing so.
The overarching lesson we took from the Global Innovation Policy Accelerator pilot was the importance of balancing the focus between action on the projects that country teams have individually pursued throughout the programme, and the process of collaboration.
Although we expect these national projects will generate real change in the longer term, the nine months of the Policy Accelerator is not long enough to demonstrate major change at a national level.
We want to put the spotlight on the processes behind these projects: the importance of understanding and supporting team dynamics, the ability to adopt new point of views around how innovation policy is designed and delivered, and the drive and motivation to open up to and scale collaboration mechanisms.
As we expand the Accelerator to new countries and regions over the next three years, we will continue to share what we are learning. Please do keep up to date with our progress, and get in touch to explore opportunities for collaboration.