i-Teams launch at Nesta

To Nesta – and an optimism-fuelled launch of i-Teams. I took good notes and reproduce them here.  Also @liorsmith did a Storify – shown below.  There’s lots more stuff on the Nesta site about iTeams; here’s some background:

“At this event we will launch the i-teams report, a new study by Nesta and Bloomberg Philanthropies, which tells the stories of 20 of the most established of these government innovation teams and funds from around the world.

The event will be chaired by Geoff Mulgan, Chief Executive at Nesta, who will chair a discussion with some of the i-team leaders from around the world, including Memphis Innovation Delivery Team, La 27e Région, and MindLab.”


Geoff Mulgan – complicated dynamics of trying to innovate in regions and governments. A global approach to learn from each other in making innovation happen.  Nesta is involved in both the theory and practice and keen to learn from other organisations around the world.  I-teams field is “exploding around the world” – as a way of stimulating innovation.

Bloomberg is a symbol of how public leadership can achieve innovation.

James Anderson – focused on cities and local leaders.  Mission is to promote innovation capability – generating and implementing new ideas.  Spreading strategies between cities – helping to speed these up.  Field is making progress and i-teams are spreading from cities, at regional level and national governments. Essential work expected of all governments, create opportunities to spread these teams, measurement and evaluation important.

Local governments are required to do more than ever – but in many cities they are doing amazing things with limited resources.  Partnerships are difficult.  Collaboration is challenging.  Need for extra hands and more resources – i-teams can help to “bridge the gap”.  Developing innovation capacity is important and the value proposition of i-teams needs to be clear.

There are themes – and commonalities – focus on what’s working – there are a small number of known processes, steps and approaches.  Avoid mistakes and risks – there is method in this.  measurement and evaluation – there are various levels of commitment to measuring impact (and success in it).  We are going to need more and better data to highlight the value produced.  This is not easy.  The stakes are high. A special burden on data and measurement.

Bloomberg [on video – cue inevitable World Cup joke] – innovation doesn’t come easy to government.  Hence i-teams as a model.  Governments need to learn from each other.  To spur innovation and make progress – and to get it done.

Ruth Puttick. Global trend for i-teams in governments around the world.  These teams exist at a national, regional and local level.  Lots in US and Europe, growing in Asia – only found one in Africa.  Four types:

  • Solving specific challenges – MONUM Boston
  • Citizens, non-profits and business engagement – Seoul Innovation Bureau – citizens
  • Transforming processes and skills in government – PS21
  • Wider policy and systems change – Sitra as example
How to create an i-team

Specific targets initially.  Diverse skills in teams.  Lean funding model – with partners for implementation.  Continually demonstrate “usefulness”.  Don’t reinvent from scratch – there are methods available; refine and make relevant.  Very strong project management. A bias towards action.  Who do they handover to?  Need to be very clear.  Relentless impact measurement. The measurement area is very challenging for most teams.  How do we make sure we stop what’s not working or ineffective.  Celebrate success and share credit.

Geoff Mulgan then chaired a panel discussion with:

Christian Bason – Mindlab
Helen Goulden – Nesta Innovation Lab
Douglas A McGowen – Memphis Innovation Lab
Stephane Vincent – La 27e Région

Geoff asks for recent examples of specific projects that are ‘tangible’.

Christian – trying to modernise government in Denmark through re-developing Trust – although it may seem abstract – it needs to be highlighted and delivered in reality.  Exploring principles of operation. Very much a question of clarity of purpose.  Minister and government want to increase trust – key priority.

Stephane – consortium between national and regional level.  Transforming skills in administration – working with the Universities (ENA) on this.  Trying to empower managers with design and ethnographic skills.  National moves to reduce number of regions in France – this will have an impact on the work of the i-team.

Douglas – Memphis – no shortage of problems – gaining traction is a big issue. Focus on disadvantaged neighbourhoods.  The catalyst was i-teams – developing a model that neighbourhoods and government could agree on.  Two specific neighbourhoods – reduce levels of vacancy of business premises, improve the neighbourhoods; more activity, Jobs and a better environment – now request from 4 additional neighbourhoods from grassroots level.  Impact demonstrated – very visible at street level with vacancy level, new jobs and new businesses.

Helen – public parks; lots of investment but many public parks will be losing a lot of funding.  Looking at new models for sustaining parks.  Needs strong links with government and others – a co-funding relationship in Nesta’s case.  Act at scale.  Think about national scale.

Geoff asks about politicians – how to make sure politicians are prepared to take risk.  The Mayor needs to commit to risk – and he/she needs to accept that some experiments may fail. How do i-teams deal with that?

Stephane – frustrated consultants and politicians – the way we were born.  Created an alliance with the National Association of Presidents of the French regions.  Social entrepreneurship model.  Important that we are able to say ‘no’. Need to develop ‘friendly hacker’ approach.

Christian – influence policy through senior civil servants.  Rarely do workshops with Ministers.  Eliminate bad ideas early.  Sometimes make things work as a matter of political will – and to make it as successful as possible.  Protect and help the system – but also protect MindLab.

Helen – challenge driven and therefore based on political need.  Being clear on impact measures.  For the i-team to be successful promote a “certain degree of ‘non-attachment'”let people take ownership and credit.

Stephane – bringing different groups and different levels of seniority together.  Build a community of people and look to change the system – to think systemically.

Christian – recruited my own team. Reinvent the team as well over time.  It’s about building a new team and a new profession – the public design anthropologist.  A sense of higher purpose and meaning – it may pay a little bit less than consulting.  System needs someone who is ‘ambitious on its behalf’.  Need to mix ambition with humility.  Don’t tell other people what to do.

Doug – need to have several large challenges to solve – but don’t necessarily use experts.  We are a team of generalists and we are wary of ‘expert solutions’.  More about passionate in changing outcomes.  Experts can always be engaged.  Strong project management really important.

Helen – operates at the boundaries and edges.  Multi-disciplinary approach; a variety of people leads to a flexible and powerful approach.

What’s the role of consultants in all this?

Christian – consultant spend by government a lot higher than i-teams.  Work on engaging people and helping them change more important than delivering reports.  We do need reports and evaluations of impact.  next decade will see disruption in what consultants do –  also i-teams will need to look at consulting tool kits especially for impact.

Douglas – many of the answers are already there – it’s about helping the frontline folks gain traction.

Stephane – not only the public sector needs to change.  Private sector needs to change – there is a crisis in consulting and the trade unions in France for example.

Questions from the floor

Public sector innovation in the US – re organisational politics and how to manage them. Value analysis.

Doug says it’s become ‘efficiency’ and justification for reducing spending.  Need to understand the longterm life cycle costs and benefits of a particular course of action.  Elected officials need to understand the longterm value proposition.

Dermot Egan – importance of physical space model.

Christian – “don’t do the beanbags” – symbolic value to physical space.  Competency environment as a resource.  Make the space functional and effective.  Catering and flexible spaces.  A place to visit for people is a useful asset.  It’s about people and space.

How to apply this to multi-lateral organisations?

Stephane – some moves to create European Lab – make it a ‘do Tank’ or Lab.  It could be done and it could be useful.

Issue of scale.

Christian – need to adopt methods and tools to EU, World Bank, UNDP etc.  EU needs an i-team. Move from analysis and think tanks – to labs and action.

How to better learn – how can you learn from each other?

Stephane – it’s a challenge.  Do real stuff together especially at the international level. We need each other.  For example attack one challenge all together.  make it practical, document what we are doing.  Action research.

Helen – gathering momentum of people who want to learn.  Some kind of global network would be interesting.

Question re scale and investing in ‘funky new ideas’ – how to persuade investment?

Issue of trust and dealing with political changes
What projects have involved a digital element?

Cabinet Office- how to build trust; is there a moment of realisation?

Christian – re Trust and Traction.  It’s not a fad that needs to be killed off when a government changes.  Digital is involved in 90% of the solutions.  We are realising that the deep problems need a long term strategic approach.

Stephane – definitely need to think 10 years ahead. No one in France is thinking in such long terms about the future of administration and government in France. Someone needs to be able to think ahead.  It’s a ‘think tank’ and a ‘do tank’.  Creating trust can need 6-8 months of work together before we start to do real work. Need the development of contracts and protocols between stakeholders.

Douglas – leaders change but the citizens – our customers – don’t.  Team needs to be a catalyst for change. Citizens demand change – and they can understand the value of the team.  Population sees the need and influences the politicians. Traction gained through understanding the 2nd and 3rd order of the changes you are making – need to stay focused in the work at hand.

Helen – perception is that it’s about beanbags and post it notes.  Not just about the supply of new shiny ideas.  Need to look more at the demand side.  The gravitational pull of the status quo needs to be resisted and managed.

Geoff – to conclude – lots of changes in elections – in Seoul existing Mayor gained a landslide, Australia, Colombia.  Approaches to governance.  Need to take risks and back innovators.  He’s optimistic.

Underlying message of the work is about the practice of the i-teams and influence on policy and government.  Now more about experiments and rapid developments – not so much top down perhaps.  A different approach to change and to the role of the citizen.  Is it a profession? Maybe – certainly animated by a sense of mission and purpose.  And a sense of a duty to solve big and intractable problems.  Feels that the i-teams ‘movement’ is the beginning of something and wonders if in future we will have bigger gatherings of i-teams from all around the world.