THE INNOVATOR CATALYST

15 de diciembre de 106

During the last week of past November, a course on system innovation, circular economy and water management was held in the city of Valencia. The course, promoted and organized by the Polytechnic University if Valencia and the Valencian Agricultural Research Institute, was a new edition of the Innovator Catalyst series of the Climate KIC.

For six days, 17 participants from 6 countries were intensively working on the topic and brushing up their skills on system innovation and circular economy project management. In the mornings, international experts joined the course, sharing their knowledge and experience with participants in some highly interactive sessions including lectures, roundtables and discussions about how to apply the new insights to participants’ cases.

In these morning sessions, we also counted on the participation of experts from Creafutur who let us try the business model circulab, specifically designed to spot circular opportunities in the design or refurbish of any business model, whether it is a service or a product oriented one.

In the afternoons, participants were split up into two project teams. They were walked through an innovation pathway to come up with and design a solution for two real cases proposed by the regional government of Valencia. One of the problems consisted in how to reduce the amount of waste water that is released to the sea after being treated in the public facilities. The other one was about what to do to avoid the burning of the rice straw after harvesting. New technologies? Changing behaviours? Building consensus around stakeholders? New uses for materials? Myriads of potential solutions for these circular challenges and some problem owners waiting and craving for them.

Factory4Change designed and facilitated this innovation journey that brought people from understanding the problem to validating the proposed solution.

One of the main challenges that innovation teams face when it comes to dealing with complex problems, is how to take into consideration the variety of perspectives, expectations and relationships in the sociotechnical system while still keep focused on designing and prototyping tangible innovations. On the one hand the more linear approaches, such as design thinking, include the user or customer point of view into the innovation stint but don’t pay enough attention to the social, economic, environmental and technical system in which they are embedded. On the other hand, system approaches many times end up in an endless cycle of consensus workshops without getting to any specific solution or innovation. Therefore, the challenge is how to combine both approaches in such a way that the process is still quick and action oriented but also comprehending the complex network of stakeholders and relationships.

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Based on the five day course, in Factory4Change proposed and crafted a bespoke innovation stint merging together the system thinking and the design thinking approaches. We made use of the five-step design thinking process, proposed by the Stanford’s d.School and widely adopted around the world, as our bottom line. From that point on, we modified some of the steps by building the systemic approach in. To do that, we resorted to some tools and methods such as the visual toolbox for system innovation (sign up here to download the toolbox), the Advanced Creative Problem Solving or the Lego® Serious Play®.

  • First and second day were spent on understanding the system, the equivalent phase to the empathizing step. After a quick exercise to challenge their assumptions about the actual situations, participants applied systemic tools to keep the focus on the system rather than the customers or users as individuals. Multilevel maps were sketched out; networks of stakeholder were built and the existing relationships and exchange flows were analyzed. By the end of the second day teams had gained really deep insights about the whole systems, how they work and some of their main gaps and dysfunctionalities.
  • The third day was devoted to Define the problem. In this case, we run a quick visioning and backcasting session. By means of LEGO® Serious Play® participants mapped out the landscape of stakeholders I the current situation, the shared envisioned scenario and the changes and barriers needed to make it happen. By analyzing this chain or ladder of changes and barriers, each team came out with a short list of problems to overcome with innovative solutions.
  • The fourth day was the solution day, based on the Solution step from Advanced Creative Problem Solving or the Ideate step of Design Thinking. Two parallel sessions of teamstorming fleshed out with some others tools paved the way to an in-depth analysis and ranking of solutions. Eventually, each team decided which solution were going to work on during the fifth day of the course.
  • The fifth day was the prototyping and testing day. In the morning, both teams were working and prototyping their solutions. They entailed working on the business plan, modelling the solution and preparing a pitch. In the afternoon, solutions were pitched to the challenge owners and the teams had a feedback meeting with them, analyzing the pros and cons of each solution.

After five immersive days, 17 highly committed participants worked together in a co-creative way to design a creative and innovative solution for a complex challenge. The goal was accomplished and the problem owners are right now analyzing the possibilities of moving forward the solutions proposed.

One of the main lessons from this course was that system thinking and design thinking are ripe for combination. It is possible and desirable to find a common ground whereby including the systemic perspective in an innovation stint doesn’t mean a risk for developing quick and creative innovations. This has been the first step to design a merged innovation methodology.