Get this stuff out of my head.


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A couple of weeks ago I attended another terrific UKGovCamp. Thanks need to go out to Steph, Dave, Lloyd and the army of GovCampers who make this very special event happen. Special points should go to this year’s hosts, IBM. Not only for a fantastic venue and bacon sandwiches for breakfast, but because so many of their staff turned out on a Saturday to take part in the event.

I had prepared in advance for the session I wanted to run, but preparatiom does not mean that you will actually get anybody interested in a session, unconferences can be a fickle mistress. So I was extremely pleased that after pitching ‘What are the blockers to innovation?’ I got such a amazing turn out.

My premise was to try and facilitate a conversation that got beyond the usual dead-ends of ‘but my organisation is risk averse’ or ‘the procurement department doesn’t understand Agile’. Not that these are not very valid points, but we do come to those conclusions (several times over) at every UKGovCamp/LocalGovCamp. I wanted to try and find the common underlying themes for innovation getting blocked and come up with some strategies for dealing with them. The room was still with me so I presented my ‘draft’ list of root causes:

  • Capacity - “we don’t have enough time/money/people”
  • Skills - “we don’t know how to do it”
  • Belief, buy-in and evidence - “we don’t think it will work”
  • Cultural - “we don’t do it like that here”
  • Political/political - “I don’t want that to happen”

To explore these root blockers I asked for the participants to come up with examples of where they have been encountered. Placing them into a root blocker category if they fitted and creating a new one if not. Unsurprising, there were plenty of examples, including: the use of paper based planning systems (cultural), project scope creep (political), adoption of iPads (fear - a new root blocker). Through this process the participants then added some more root causes of innovation blockage:

  • Fear/lose of control - “but something bad might happen”
  • Broken management - “that won’t help me achieve my KPIs”
  • Lack of benefit - “That won’t actually help”

But my objective for the session was not just to be able to enumerate all the ways in which ‘the system’ stops the great and talented folk at UKGovCamp from fixing everything, I wanted to work out ways in which we could address the blocks and actually move forward.

The conversation circled around some of our normal approaches to getting things done: persuasion, listening, collaborating and JFDI (which made me think of Tom Loosemore’s talk at Mind the Product early this year), we even covered rational argument and simply walking away to fight a different battle. But eventually we seem to arrive at a concrete conclusion.

It was Catherine Howe, who put it so succinctly. In order to remove or circumvent these blocks we need the energy, intellect and creativity of a network of people who are passionate about changing things for the better. We must build these networks to be open in attitude and make up. They should consist of people from across (and up and down) our organisations as well as from beyond the its boundaries. The only prerequisite to being part of the network should be an open, inquisitive mind.

A network can not only be applied to the major problem of changing an organisaiton’s culture, but simply by existing, it will change the culture. It will provide a place for new traditions and norms to establish themselves.

While this conclusion was not the ‘5 step plan to unblocking innovation’ I was half expecting, for me it is a far more practical solution. By concentrating on building a piece of infrastructure (the network) we create a capability that can adapt to changing circumstance and emerging problems rather than a single use solution with limited application or lifespan.

I would like to thank all of the participants of the session as I felt it was extremely useful and I feel more prepared to deal with blockers to innovation in future.