Nesta’s sustainable future mission has the ambitious goal of decreasing carbon emissions from household energy use by 28% on 2019 levels by 2030. To help get there, we need to quickly bring together different skills to test new concepts with real-world feedback, and share what we find with the people who can make the most of them.

As a mission-oriented innovation team, our work constantly brings us into contact with new ideas, examples of great practices, and new perspectives from communities and organisations working to decarbonise UK homes. It’s inspiring, but faced with a complex problem, it can quickly get overwhelming – there’s usually no clear direction and the solutions are interrelated. This can often lead to “analysis paralysis” where we try to assess our way forwards in the abstract. When we need to make an impact in the real world and at pace, this isn’t going to be enough: we need to test fast and let the real results show us the way.

Fortunately, at Nesta we have an amazing set of multidisciplinary teams spanning practices including data science, design, evidence and experimentation, behavioural science, collective intelligence and more. This is combined with deep domain knowledge within mission teams and networks of users and stakeholders who we are working for the benefit of.

To make the most of this, we have been piloting a ‘speed-testing’ process to build interdisciplinary teams within Nesta for a short period of time around a highly focused challenge, in order to rapidly test and validate concepts. The results then inform our mission decision making and direction setting, informed by real world feedback and results, rather than upfront analysis alone. The aim is to do this efficiently, creatively and to make the most of the multitude of skills we have as a team. We also want to share our process and findings out in the open where we can create more connections around people who are working on similar ideas and increase the likelihood of these ideas succeeding.

The challenges

In the sustainable future mission, one of our priorities is increasing the ease of getting a heat pump. A number of concepts have emerged repeatedly in our work over the past year, so for this process we turned each of them into a challenge brief for a team, who have shared their processes in the pages below.

Speed testing is an experiment in how we as an organisation empower multidisciplinary teams, and support them to undertake effective social innovation in a way that works for them and stakeholders. It is deliberately a short, sharp process that allows us to evaluate ideas quickly without lengthy planning. In the context of our missions, it has the role of helping decide whether to take an idea further, or park it and share the findings, looking into alternative routes. Doing this faster means less risk of pursuing an unfeasible concept, and it enables multiple rounds to take place, where ideas can evolve and become more visible to a wider range of people.

Our first pilot was run as a cohort based process, with five teams of three people with mixed skills (including colleagues from the Behavioural Insights Team) working simultaneously, with a whole-group kick-off and show-and-tell. Teams were given time to align on a clear set of objectives and the autonomy, accountability and support to figure out how to achieve them over the course of the following weeks. This ‘scaffolding’ to support social innovation included:

  • A team briefing with an external ‘sponsor’ for the concept
  • A one-day kick-off workshop to introduce the process and establish the key assumptions that the teams would need to challenge
  • Coaching and access to practice specialists throughout the process, with regular check-ins and space to discuss work with external experts
  • Encouragement to take any (legal and ethical) means!

In the space of four weeks, five concepts were tested and clear recommendations were made. Over 75 people were engaged in real world user and stakeholder feedback, helping to test our key assumptions and increasing our confidence and direction as a mission.

The process was led by Nesta’s design practice, and was heavily inspired by recent work shared by government design teams to move towards team based working, and a mindset of empowering teams and building teams through convening rather than managed project delivery.

The projects here are the first results of this speed testing pilot, and we are sharing them for anyone to follow up on, whether that’s developing your own test, developing the idea further or adapting it for a different purpose. Doing this quickly and publicly is part of our commitment to supporting innovation that realises social benefit, can be sustainable in the long term and has the potential to reach many people.

If you are interested in following up on any of the ideas presented here please get in touch email us at [email protected]

We are also interested in building connections with organisations looking to develop similar rapid innovation processes through internal labs or open processes. To get in touch, email [email protected] or [email protected].