A progress round-up of Y Lab’s 5 Digital Innovation Accelerator projects exploring how digital technologies can be used to improve, reframe and transform public services in Wales.
Over the last few months, Y Lab has been working with a talented pool of people from across Welsh public services. This has included those at the front line of a city’s flood defences, people providing life-changing training for digitally excluded ex-offenders and much more besides.
It has, without a doubt, been my privilege to work with the cohort. They have shared their experiences, challenges and expertise with such generosity. Now Y Lab’s team are faced with the task of evaluating and reporting our work.
In the process of doing that, I thought it might be useful to share some of our thoughts and reflections now that we are mid-way in the process.
Our Digital Innovators’ Network aims to be an enabling space for constructively critiquing current ways of working and exploring the potential for change.
Often in the network sessions, talk turned to ingrained ways of working and how these might be disrupted. These physical, social and cultural processes often seem so well worn as to be insurmountable, but the opportunity to draw together our network of experts and share these challenges provided insight and support.
Of course, that alone is never going to be enough. Discussions must possess enough resonance and pathways for progression in order to become practical outcomes. In the case of our accelerator projects, I believe that we are starting to see exciting shifts. Over the next few months, my task is to work with our project teams and enable these changes to become embedded within their organisation.
Creating this space for innovation requires trust across the cohort and our approach to this boils down to leading the programme with generosity and openness. I find myself saying it so often that it pays to have a personal benchmark to keep myself in check. It is this:
If you don’t feel a bit uncomfortable, you’re probably not being open enough.
As part of my programme, I shared a mess of notes, hopefully entitled ‘Digital Innovation Fund - Learning Capture’ and over the course of the week in the gaze and comments of my cohort I shaped that document into the outline for our report to Welsh Government. Rather than circulate a final draft and inviting discussion, opening up the raw document allowed for the cohort to participate directly in the future of our collective work, and that is the space that I want us to work in.
Finally, you can’t just match make goals, interests and skill-sets across a cohort. The drivers and constraints for innovation, whether related to users, technology or organisations, need to interact and bleed across those ageing dependencies. A little serendipity helps here.
It is easy to become domesticated. Let old habits creep in and your hopes of producing an interesting innovation slink quietly out the back door. Hold a project team too rigorously to their original pitch and you’ll likely deliver on time, but you may miss opportunities along the way.
At this stage in the fund, Y Lab is beginning to reflect what we have achieved and what we want to be better at. In a different organisation, the title for this post might have been ‘Risk, Safety, and Practice’. I chose differently because I think we have made a strong start and have built a foundation from which the Digital Innovation Fund for Wales can grow.