Charles Leadbeater (Guest Blog): Reflections on innovation in early learning
Thanks for the opportunity to speak at events hosted by United Way Australia around innovation in early learning. It was interesting to be speaking the same week as the Australian Government released its latest Australian Early Development Census results, which indicated little improvement in the headline statistic over the last six years – 22% of Australian children still start school ‘developmentally vulnerable’.
It is clear something needs to change to shift the dial on this statistic. Here are a few of my reflections on innovation that I hope will assist.
Arrive late. Often the most successful innovators aren’t those that come up with the first invention but refine it for what is needed. When you think of some of the world’s most successful, innovative companies, then they are not usually first to market but arrive later with a better product. In terms of social innovation, this might mean looking at what is working elsewhere to tackle the challenges in early learning and refining this for issues in Australia.
A marathon of sprints. To create systems change takes time. It is a marathon – you need to be prepared for the long haul but with a difference. Very frequently you need to sprint to achieve your next goal. And often it is a series of sprints that take place and you run the marathon!
Small bets not big bets. It is crucial to prototype. Very few innovations are exactly right the first time; the concept needs constant refining to get it right. This is a challenge for public sector funders and philanthropy looking to fund social innovation because often they want the solution upfront. We need a funding environment where there is scope to rapidly prototype to get it right before scaling the solution.
Changing the narrative. From recent work I’ve been involved with in disadvantaged communities in England, it was clear that for many community members there was no sense that things were going to radically change. Life was punctuated by a series of bureaucratic interventions at best or by nothingness at worst. Similarly, within the social services system existed a lock down mentality where bureaucracy strangled the sense that things could change. To develop innovative responses it is crucial to change the narrative.
Collaboration is key. Effective collaboration takes time to build but once in place it provides a great breeding ground for social innovation. Business, philanthropy, the public sector and social innovators need work together to tackle the complex issues that underlie social disadvantage as no one organisation or sector can pull all the levers necessary to create change.
None of this is easy. I reflected in the Melbourne event that my experience was based more on failure than success, but that itself is crucial for innovation. We must create the culture where failure is permitted and lessons from this are used to inform the next iteration. This will allow us to develop effective social innovation and hopefully begin to shift the dial.
About the author: Charles Leadbeater is a leading authority on innovation and creativity. He has advised companies, cities and governments around the world on innovation strategy and drew on that experience in writing his latest book We-think: the power of mass creativity, which charts the rise of mass, participative approaches to innovation from science and open source software, to computer games and political campaigning.