Run your own Explorations Initiative programme

www.nesta.org.uk/feature/explorations-initiatives-2020/run-your-own-explorations-initiative-programme/
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We hope that the previous articles have inspired you to foster in-house creativity in your workplace, school or community. The aim of this section is to provide you with guidelines and best practices to help you understand, adapt and run your own Explorations Initiatives.

Planning

  • Have a pot of money. The budget that is available will help you understand how many ‘prizes’ you can give through the random allocation of funds. The budget will depend on what your workspace, school or community are ready to invest in the programme. It’s possible to run the programme without a fund, but having a budget can help pay for research expertise, consultancy and any outputs.
  • Have a dedicated team to run it. The Explorations team had two main roles: creative and administrational support. On the creative side, the team helped the explorers delve into topics and promoted imagination from them. On the administration side, the team helped with the management of the programme and process. This team was supported by the Communications team and Nesta Directors.
  • Have enthusiastic explorers. Staff members that are inclined to explore other areas of interest related-or-not to their day-to-day work is a must. Given that the Initiatives were chosen at random, the structure of the programme had to account for different outputs without knowing which were going to be selected.
  • Set some basic criteria. Our criteria was set to promote the creativity of staff and to ensure that the outputs created would be valuable and reputationally sound.
  • Have a clear timeline. Setting a clear timeline with milestones and expected deliverables is important. We communicated the timeline before the randomised draw took place, to ensure that participants were aware of the expectations of the project before submitting an idea.
  • Create a supportive environment. Innovation is more likely to happen when it is nurtured and supported rather than conducted in isolation. We held an open call for ideas, reminded staff of timelines and encouraged them to think creatively and “out of the box”.

Promotion

  • Encourage collaboration to build momentum. To help staff develop ideas, form teams and build momentum for the project, we hosted a series of internal workshops to come up with ideas. We encouraged staff members to share ideas, develop them together and be transparent about their intentions. This allowed people to collaborate even without knowing if they would win the randomised draw.
  • Make your programme the talk of the town. To promote the scheme we spoke at team meetings, wrote blogs for the intranet and put up posters around the office. We even undertook a little guerilla marketing in which we distributed fake money around desks.
  • Be open and reassuring. Explorations Initiatives are most valuable when the pool of ideas are diverse and the ‘usual suspects’ are balanced out with newcomers to the innovation space. As we ran workshops and attended team meetings, we fostered an inclusive environment and kept an open mind when listening to proposals from staff, building on ideas instead of shutting them down.

Delivery

  • Create a sense of community and a structure around the project. Once the winners were announced, we organised a kick-off meeting to share ideas and build momentum. This kick-off meeting also helped the winners to understand the objectives of their Initiatives, plan and budget to make the most out of the project.
  • Support the Explorers during the project timeline. Each team was offered a monthly meeting with staff from the Explorations team to advise, troubleshoot and support the winners both creatively and administratively. The dedicated team dealt with all project-related finance, contracts and administration which allowed the winners headspace and time to work on their Initiative.

Showcasing the outputs (and the ‘perks’ of COVID)

Lockdown started just as our explorers were delivering their Initiatives, with some ideas pivoting in unexpected ways. Many of our teams planned to publicly display their work but lockdown restrictions meant this was not possible. The Explorations team had to shape the final display of the Initiatives in the same creative manner that was developed throughout the programme.

  • We showcased the Initiatives digitally through an exhibition on a dedicated Slack channel. Each day for a fortnight we added the outputs of an Initiative as a new exhibit in the dedicated Slack channel. The channel was visited by more than a quarter of Nesta staff with a great level of engagement. We created labels with information about the outputs as you would see in any museum or gallery and shared links to the reports, blogs and audiovisual outputs. There were more than 200 emojis shared, more than 20 conversations started from the material that was posted and we included 3-4 questions every day to involve Nesta staff and bring expertise from the organisation to the channel.
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The Slack channel exhibition showcasing some outputs from the Exploration Initiatives

  • We held a private view in a spreadsheet, inspired by Marie Foulston’s party in a google doc. Social distancing meant this was not possible face to face so we held the event in a spreadsheet. Sounds unusual right? But for half an hour one afternoon staff were invited to visit a shared spreadsheet where the Initiatives we displayed and which included fun activities like drawing your own digital twin and creating a sustainable menu. There were more than 9 “rooms” open for people to explore, express themselves and comment on others’ contributions, with a randomised prize draw for any participant that entered the space during the private view. We had so many visitors the spreadsheet started booting people out to let people in the ‘virtual’ queue enter. The private view was a hit with staff, fostering a sense of community in a time of social isolation.
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The private view was held in a spreadsheet

We acknowledge that the initial planning considered a different way of displaying and celebrating the final outputs. But the diversity and creativity of the Exploration Initiatives promoted these unusual but engaging ways of showcasing what the explorers did. In the end, the Explorations team had unexpectedly entered ‘the creative space’ as much as the explorers, and a culture of creativity was fostered all round.