Why we set up the Lab
Traditional thinking isn't giving us answers to social and economic crises fast enough.
For too long, a systematic approach to innovation has been the preserve of the private sector. But the launch today of Nesta's Lab provides one of a growing number of indications that the pendulum is at last swinging. Only a year ago, support for social innovation remained weak. For sure, there were ample examples. But they lacked a repertoire of proven methods.
Often, they were forced to shoe-horn their experiments into financial structures regardless of fit. Most dispiriting of all, they were more likely to be met with scepticism or worse, indifference, than enthusiasm or constructive advice.
"Where do you find the pioneers?" one social entrepreneur used to quip: face down in a puddle with an arrow in their back.
But the Lab's arrival is evidence that a new coalition is building, which reaches across both major political parties, overcomes arbitrary silos and connects bottom and top, bold ideas with the leaders of public service with the power to spread them. The recession has only accelerated the movement - after all, who can continue to meet rising demand when belts are tightening all around? If ever an initiative were the product of many hands, this is it.
So much the new good news. Forging new models which can serve the needs of the 21st century as well as current models served the last just got a whole lot easier. With Nesta's DNA - most importantly the liberty to tailor its practical capital, networks and know-how - the Lab is a serious source of help.
But innovators beware. The flipside of new levels of interest is that the bar is also higher. The mantra of 'let a thousand flowers bloom' simply won't cut it anymore. As innovation in public services comes of age, the onus is on a rigorous approach to trialling new approaches, applying lessons quickly and working with others to make hard choices about which deserve to be scaled up. Of working together to fashion credible solutions at a price UK public services can afford.
Calibrated freedom in order to be taken seriously? It's a trade-off worth making. Now let's collaborate. Our future surely depends on it.