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Getting started with skills for innovation

Nesta’s Innovation Skills team aims to cut through the hot air that can surround innovation and help people in simple, practical ways to become better innovators for the common good. Our work ranges from creating guides and toolkits, to developing tailored learning programmes and providing advice and support.

We’re are always keen to explore new ways to share how we work with a wider audience, and to discover how the tried-and-tested tools we use can be helpful in different contexts. To test our assumption that our tools are useful for both large and smaller organisations, last week we launched Skills for Innovation - an open event aimed at local social enterprises, charities and community organisations.

The workshop brought together 60 like-minded people to share, learn and experiment with tools and approaches that can help organisations deliver better results. We experimented with the format and identified four questions that we have found helpful for change-making organisations. We then matched each question to a tool or approach that could help explore it.

To hit the ground running by trying out the new approaches in real-life work settings, each quick fire session invited participants to explore the tool and how they could put it to use the very next day. Each session was also accompanied with supporting material to take away and continue to build on after the workshop.

From the positive feedback we received at the workshop, the practical focus of the sessions was very useful, so we thought we would share the summaries and materials here too. Below are outlines of each of the sessions, as well links to find out more and download specific tools.

1. Why am I doing this? The change I want to make… using a theory of change

What it is: A framework that helps you to break down your idea, connecting the problem you're trying to solve with the change you want to make.

Why use it: It helps you to generate a comprehensive description of how and why a desired change is expected to happen in your particular context. It focuses on mapping out and making tangible the ‘middle space’ of what a change initiative plans to do, and how it will achieve these goals.

How it works: It enables you to identify your desired long-term goals, and then work back from these to identify all the conditions (outcomes) that must be in place (and how these related to one another causally) for the goals to occur.

Find out more and download the theory of change tool here.

2. How will I achieve this? Addressing mindset and approach… using experimental culture

What it is: An approach to creative problem solving that is more experimental, and moves away from the narrow and obvious.

Why use it: Developing an experimental mindset in your organisation has become increasingly important to deal with the shifting and unpredictable context of driving social change. This is not to say that current analytical approaches are wrong, but that there may be a benefit of combining the methods and approaches inspired by both analytical and imaginative mindsets involved in experimentation (see continuum below), arguing that is not an ‘either or’ situation.

Read more about experimental culture and some different experimenatal approaches in this blog from the Innovation Skills team.

3. Who will this benefit? Getting closer to your users… using human centred design (HCD)

What it is: A creative approach to problem solving that starts with the people you are developing interventions for, and ends in solutions that better suit their needs, abilities and requirements.

Why use it: Too often we develop our services/interventions/programmes based on our own assumptions of what we think the problem is, and what we think people need. An HCD approach supports you in testing these assumptions via generating insights from those who actually experience the problem and will be the people using your solution. By engaging with people from the very beginning of the process, you increase the chance of uptake, as your solution will be a better ‘fit’.

Find out more about our thinking around design here, and take a look at our practical guide on Designing for Public Services for a range of HCD methods and tools.

4. What am I doing? Tools for reflection… the Standards of Evidence ladder

What it is: A reflective way to check that you are making the impact you set out to achieve, through the use of evidence.

Why use it: Often we can be too close to our own work to make an objective assessment of how we are doing, and what we are achieving. The Standards of Evidence ladder helps you determine how confident you can be that an intervention is having a positive impact by building an evidence base around your programmes. Using it, you are able to identify where you are in terms of evidencing the impact you are making and recognise what next steps you may need to take.

Find out more about Nesta’s Standards of Evidence here, or download the Standards of Evidence ladder intro and worksheet.

If you would be interested in further Skills for Innovation events please keep an eye on Nesta’s event page for future open events, or sign up to Nesta’s newsletter. We’re always eager to hear about how our tools have been used and the impact they’ve created to please do get in touch with any stories you’d like to share.

Author

Isobel Roberts

Isobel Roberts

Isobel Roberts

Content and Communications Manager, Innovation Skills

Isobel works in the Innovation Skills team as Content and Communications Manager, helping to build Nesta's learning and development offering.

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Georgina Innes

Georgina Innes

Georgina Innes

Learning Services Manager

Georgina works in the Innovation Skills team as a Learning Services Manager.

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Kelly Duggan

Kelly Duggan

Kelly Duggan

Learning Experience Designer

Kelly is a Learning Experience Designer in the Innovation Skills team.

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Elena Oyon

Elena Oyon

Elena Oyon

Learning Services Manager

Elena's role involves managing the delivery of evidence masterclasses and working with the Skills team to help build its learning and development.

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