How to create a successful innovation team? Don’t make it responsible for innovation

All governments need institutions to catalyse innovation. The best mayors and ministers recognise this and put in place i-teams - dedicated teams, units and funds to structure and embed innovation methods and practices in government.

A question that we are constantly asked is “what makes a successful i-team?”. From our research, we set out 10 recommendations to make innovation happen, focussed on forging strong partnerships, adopting an explicit approach or method, continually demonstrating value, and relentlessly measuring impact. Overarching all of these lessons is the fact that no i-team is responsible for innovation.

Now this might sound ridiculous. Why would anyone create an innovation team without giving them responsibility for innovation?

The reason is simple: if a team is tasked with 'doing innovation' it is too easy for the rest of government to disengage, to think that innovation is being taken care of and can be simply ticked off the priority list.

The creation of an innovation team should instead have a symbolic effect, highlighting that there is a smart, ambitious government. But as one of the panelists said at the launch of i-teams, “when you say innovation, you say nothing”. An i-teams’ branding should therefore make clear its aims and objectives, the methods and approaches being used, and the impacts it is having, helping engage others in the work it is doing. 

i-teams are therefore an asset, helping others to achieve very complex goals. They are a catalyst. They actively engage with and task delivery to government agencies, moving rapidly from ideas to transformed services or policies. This is helping them to make a real difference to their host and partner governments. Our research has shown that i-teams are making innovation happen to produce impressive results, from stimulating business growth, reducing poverty, increasing employability to reducing murder rates.

Setting up a team to 'do innovation' is setting them up to fail. Innovation in government should never be the responsibility for one team. An i-team provides the insights, methods, guidance, capacity and support, but delivery will ultimately need to be the responsibility for the rest of government if they are to be embedded into the day-to day.

After all, the creation and delivery of safe, effective and better services should matter to everyone.

Get involved

If you are running or developing an i-team we would love to hear your reflections and insights.

If you would like us to consider featuring your i-team on our website, please fill in this simple form.

We would also like to hear from other who are helping to shape and develop this field. If you have comments, questions or contributions please get in touch with us at: [email protected], or you can join the debate on Twitter using #iteams

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Ruth Puttick

Ruth Puttick

Ruth Puttick

Principal Researcher - Public and Social Innovation

Ruth was Principal Researcher for public and social innovation. Ruth joined the Nesta policy and research team in 2009, working on a range of projects across innovation, investment and…

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