The mixed outlook on social innovation in Australia

19 October 2020 4 min. read
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The intention for innovation is strong across Australia’s business environment, but many are tentative about the first steps. This is according to new analysis from ThinkPlace.

The strategic design consultancy surveyed more than 100 business leaders across Australia’s public and private sectors, including chief executives directors and other senior leadership. The objective of the report was to identify the state of innovation across the country – particularly efforts for social betterment – at a time when it may be more crucial than ever.

“Innovation matters because human lives, and the quality of them, matter. While the temptation might exist to hit pause on our innovation efforts at this time of global crisis, it is imperative that we actually do the opposite,” explained Nina Terrey – Global Partner at ThinkPlace and a member of the recently revamped senior leadership team.

The importance of innovation and collaboration

The promising sign is that most organisations now see social issues such as healthcare, aged care, circular economy and sustainability as central priorities – ones that pose direct challenges to business and society. Nearly 80% acknowledge that these problems are more complex than ever before, while a great deal more believe that tackling these issues will require a different approach from what has been tried before – an innovative approach.

Spurred into action, a touch under 90% are itching to start innovating and building solutions. At the same time, businesses appear to be grounded in reality, and aware of their limitations. When tackling issues that scale all of society – in some cases the whole world – it is scarcely possible for a single organisation to find the solutions, no matter how large or versatile.

The age of collaboration

Collaboration is key, across businesses, sectors, authorities and the entire stakeholder ecosystem. The importance of collaboration is noted by 85% of businesses, while more than 90% of public sector leaders highlighted that they cannot solve their organisation’s challenges alone.

Organisations remain uncertain of how to start their innovation journey

So the desire for innovation is in place, and so is the mindset. The problem is that organisations lack the confidence or certainty of how to proceed. “A clear hunger is emerging for collaborative innovation but leaders are unsure which voices they need to convene to authorise and author change around the challenges that matter. Even if leaders could assemble the right voices to drive innovation, they would not be confident that they have the skills, tools and knowledge to succeed,” explained Danny de Schutter, General Manager of Innovation at ThinkPlace.

This uncertainty is visible on all counts. Nearly half of all organisations don’t know the people or groups that they need to collaborate with in order to solve problems – either for their business or for society as a whole. Less than half are willing or confident to take the innovation driver’s seat within their specific sector. Even fewer indicated that they would know what to do if they found themselves in a collaborative arrangement with peers, competitors and stakeholders.

ThinkPlace is a consultancy that helps bridge this gap between intention and innovation. Through a range of innovation projects, the firm has demonstrated the ability to systematically translate a vision into reality. Leveraging its experience, in its report, the firm lays down the steps for this process.

Key steps in the innovation process

Interestingly, collaboration doesn’t feature anywhere near the start of this process. In fact, the first steps are to develop a vision of the future, and identify the specific challenge that needs to be overcome for this future to prevail. Next is to learn everything about this challenge, including the patterns that play out in its existence.

Only then should organisations form partnerships, based on this comprehensive understanding of the problem and its alignment with future objectives. The problem still remains of what to do once the partnership is formed. This is where the ThinkPlace report presents the concept of ‘innovation frames.’

“Dividing the overall challenge with innovation frames allows us to break a problem down to manageable components, define success criteria and form nimble teams, to pursue action on specific issues, report back and measure progress,” explained the researchers.

“These frames will operate in parallel but with structured opportunities to cross-pollinate, to showcase progress and to continually iterate and reiterate based on feedback and testing. In this way we move confidently from challenge to idea to prototype and then to a successful, scaleable innovation,” they added.