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We have started to think about how the next Design Challenge process might work. We hope the Knee High Project will result in some compelling design briefs which initiate a new Early Years Innovation Challenge.

To help us think differently about how we get the most out of this next stage, we invited some previous Design Challenge participants to share their experiences and ideas.

We asked them lots of questions, for example: What makes a good and bad design brief? What should we be looking for to determine a successful application? Should, and how could, funding be staged? What support do people actually want and need?

And this is what emerged from the conversation:

One vision, one million possibilities.
In order to be finding truly effective solutions to a complex set of challenges, we need to start the innovation process off with a strong vision, but a genuine openness to the detail of an output. We should be inviting people to come to us with the seed of an idea and the ability as a team to test and challenge and evolve this into something that will practically work. We should look for agility, creativity, common-sense, sensitivity, and the ability to make ideas tangible very quickly.

Learn by doing, survive by adapting.
If we need to be looking for the best ideas and the best team to make these ideas happen, can we rely completely on a well written proposal and well articulated interview? Will we truly identify the best people, or will we only identify the best story-tellers? What would happen if we encouraged applicants to test their concepts with people very early, quickly and cheaply, before deciding where further funding could be allocated. Placing greater value of a teams responsiveness and ability to engage with people and respond to what they learn. “It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.” (Charles Dawin, Origin of Species)

Who are the innovators, where are the new ideas.
Design and designers will be integral to this process, but sometimes the people with the best ideas and the passion for making them happen do not see themselves as designers. We need to invite interest from people in all sorts of networks, groups and pockets,people who use design without knowing it.

It’s in front of your eyes, re-imagining assets.
We’ve been lucky enough to be working with people and communities across Southwark and Lambeth and should have a team of people by the end of this scoping stage who care about this work  and care about the outcomes. It makes sense to bring these people into the next stage to work with the designers and team in testing and developing new ideas. We need to be asking ourselves what roles people could play in-order to add most value to the process? What challenge and support might the funded teams need, and how could local people supply this? We also have the physical assets of both boroughs; parks, streets, homes, offices, galleries, shops, empty spaces. We could look at ways to use these spaces to bring some light and energy to what we are doing and what we are learning. What might an Early Years Open Innovation Workshop look like in an old shop on the Walworth Road? Somewhere people could work, meet, share ideas, moan, critique, hide, play, design, make, break, listen, learn.

Fear of sharing, repeating the same mistakes.
By creating a competition and inviting people to compete for funds, you undoubtedly contributing to a competitive culture. Throughout a innovation process, where the end result may be in state of flux, sharing becomes incredibly important. Not only sharing what you’ve learnt, but also sharing, honestly, where it all went wrong. If sharing and openness are not core to the principles of how teams work, we run the risk of wasting time and resources learning the same lessons over and over again. But we are creating a fund that will to some degree be competitive, so what can we do to minimise this risk? How can a genuine openness to learning and sharing be an team attribute that we take seriously.

Building teams, growing partnerships
In the past the need for design and delivery partnerships to form early has been an important part of the selection process. But as we talk about the need for a more rapid live testing and evolution at the start, is there a need for us to think differently about the evolving characteristics of the team? At the start a team needs to; think quickly, make, prototype and learn, problem solve, be creative, have infectious energy, engage people, lead, and build good relationships. After proving the concept by working with people, the skills required might start to focus more on; business modelling, financial and social value, evidence and measurement, marketing, technology. When the business model has been tested and developed, the skills needed now might be much more related to delivery: who runs it on the ground? who overseas it’s growth and expansion? who processes the accounts? Who overseas safety and quality? Who continues to explore new opportunities? Who or what needs to keep it all going? The skills within a team need to change and adapt continually as the design of the new innovation strengthens. The only constant is leadership and vision, so let’s be open to starting small and growing out of necessity.

Creative Business Modeling, critical support.
It is important to acknowledged that designers don’t know everything. Often designers struggle with the transition between a great workable idea, and a scalable working business model. Any funding given to innovation should be given as an investment, not as a grant. Teams should be challenged early on how their concepts might sustain themselves, and how they will measure their social and economic value over time. To make this happen we need to find great people who understand business and understand design to help mentor and support the teams who are challenged with that transition. We can’t expect people to know everything, but we might help by seeking out the best business mentors.