Exploring a hunch

www.nesta.org.uk/feature/explorations-initiatives-2020/
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Nesta talks a lot about how others can support innovation. We think that if we talk the talk, then we should walk the walk, by supporting our own staff to innovate.

Leading innovators have different ways of encouraging internal innovation and drawing on the creativity of their staff. Google encouraged employees to spend 20% of their time working on what they thought would most benefit the business rather than regular projects. Most famously this led to Gmail. Adobe created its distinctive red kickbox, which included a $1000 pre-paid credit card to support innovative ideas from its workforce.

At Nesta we have Explorations Initiatives, a small fund available for staff to develop novel ideas that are too new, far out or risky for normal Nesta work. Through our Initiatives we want to cultivate an internal culture of innovation and creativity, involve more people in innovating, develop staff skills and come up with novel ideas to help achieve our charitable objects. Explorations Initiatives have been running since 2017 and for the latest round we took a new approach: by distributing funds at random.

What are Explorations Initiatives?

Explorations Initiatives are where staff can follow a hunch, chase a glimpse of light or take a shot in the dark without any worries about the consequences of failure. They also provide the opportunity to try something different from the day job or develop an interest, method or skill.

Nesta wants to draw on the creativity and imagination of its staff to pursue novel ideas and try things that might not work. You never know, some bright spark might come up with the next crowd funding or 100 day method.

Explorations Initiatives also allow Nesta to follow up on our Predictions, particularly those that are not explicitly linked to an existing programme of work. Sometimes a prediction simply provides inspiration and an Explorations Initiative ends up going in a different direction. We’re happy with that: the path to innovation is often meandering and can involve pivots.

While Exploration Initiatives are meant to be fun, the approach is grounded in evidence about the importance of following hunches and the challenges of conservative decision making. All full time members of staff were eligible to participate. And we were particularly keen to get ideas from people not directly involved in our research or programmes, such as those in communications, legal, finance and IT.

In previous years, funding was allocated through review by senior staff. What was distinct about Explorations Initiatives this time is that we gave the money away at random, to see what impact that would have in terms of fostering new ideas.

This four-part series concludes this year’s Explorations Initiatives. In the first part, we explore the benefits of randomised funding. In the second part, we share our learnings from the programme. The third part showcases eight of the Initiatives and finally, we equip you with the tools to run your own programme.