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27 January 2021

True innovation: the one thing we haven’t tried yet?

True innovation: the one thing we haven’t tried yet?

Jamie Smith is Director of Research and Innovation at Hafod, and is part of an Innovation Working Group put together by Community Housing Cymru that will be identifying the challenges facing people and communities in Wales, and looking at the ideas the housing sector has to tackle those challenges.

“Innovation is a shared endeavour. It works best when organisations pool their knowledge, share their resources and meet in the middle to solve a problem they have in common. And the more diverse the better. But of course, there are lots of things that can help or hinder that coming together. Often with innovation, a lack of capacity and tools to solve problems are what leave us falling short of making the step-change we all want.

“When I joined the housing sector (a fairly recent recruit in 2018) my first impression was of a sector awash with good ideas and solutions but without an innovation architecture, a collective approach to problem-solving, or the impetus to create them.

“Housing is by no means alone in this, but I’m sure we’d all agree we wouldn’t design an approach where organisations work independently on the same challenges with little cross-pollination or shared learning or even an agreed way of defining what the challenges are. Such an approach could never maximise the value of public investment, but it’s the one we (and our public sector counterparts) have continued to stick to, even though we know it hasn’t served us well.

“When I heard CHC was kicking off a sector-wide programme of work to grow innovation capacity and develop a shared approach, I was in…. if they’d have me.

“The working group seemed like an opportunity to influence the direction of the work and share some of the lessons I have accumulated in other sectors – and of course benefit from others’ experiences and take some learning back to my own organisation.

“My hope was that we would start small but start different, adopting a true innovation approach and process and applying it to a well-defined problem. This nearly always leads to solutions that are better suited to the problem and stand a better chance of success. Although the plan was knocked off course somewhat by the pandemic and it would have been easy to put it into the ‘when things are normal again’ box, it’s so encouraging that CHC and the Working Group continued to back innovation throughout 2020 and carried on regardless.

“A huge amount of collective thinking and analysis has taken place over the last year and eventually led us to the problem we’ll move forward with as a sector. The problem is an important one, focusing on the mental health of young people, and it will no doubt inspire some novel and worthy ideas. But the point, for me at least, is this: irrespective of the problem, we need to use this opportunity to learn the craft of innovation as a sector. We need to become familiar with the language, be true to evidence, embrace failure and accept that we can achieve more when we work on common ground.

“Anything else just wouldn’t be innovation.”

You can input your ideas and solutions to the mental health challenge identified by the Working Group here.

Find out more about the Innovation Pilot here.