Collaborative civic innovation in London’s built environment: engaging with policy & practice
28 September 2022
UCL researchers are leading public engagement within the Wellcome Trust-funded CUSSH project on civic innovation
A blog by Gemma Moore, Julie McLaren, Giuseppe Salvia, Almira Lardizabel Hussain, Max Smith and Juan Pablo Astolfo
The Greater London Authority (GLA) has been experimenting with challenge-based innovation programmes as part of its Challenge London initiative. This includes the Civic Innovation Fund (CIC) 2018-19, the Mayor’s Resilience Fund (MRF) in 2020 and the Designing London’s Recovery Programme (DLRP) in 2021-22. Each initiative has specific aims and objectives though all are focused on solving civic or urban problems through a programme approach.
UCL is leading the CUSSH research programme, a Wellcome Trust-funded, trans-disciplinary, Wellcome funded, project on urban systems for sustainability and health. Researchers from CUSSH, from a variety of disciplinary backgrounds (e.g. design, missions, systems thinking, urban health and evaluation) have been working with the Greater London Authority as a learning partner on their civic innovation policy and programmes. This work has included co-creating a theory of change for the DLRP (footnote – alongside other forms of support), an evaluation of their other civic innovation programmes (CIC and MRF) and, more recently, working with the GLA to explore learning around how challenge-based programmes can be inclusive and collaborative.
For the latter, researchers and policy makers from the GLA have worked together to scope the potential for adapting Challenge programmes to a more inclusive and collaborative model. This has included a combination of desk research and discussions with others working in this field – including researchers, practitioners, public sector officials. This blog provides some insights and reflections from a workshop with practitioners of inclusive and collaborative innovation held in June 2022.
The role of values and why they matter
The landscape of innovation is evolving, with some key steps made towards more inclusive and collaborative approaches. A number of practitioners and organisations are undertaking and enabling inclusive and collaborative forms of innovation at neighbourhood, city and national scale and demonstrating how it can be implemented in practice; relevant examples of such organisations include the Young Foundation’s work in Tower Hamlets London, the New York Mayor’s Office of the CTO’s NYCx Challenge Programme in New York, and Vinnova, the national innovation agency in Sweden’s Mission-oriented approach to innovation. Our research on inclusive and collaborative civic innovation approaches highlighted the diversity of aims, perspectives and delivery approaches that lie behind inclusive and collaborative innovation practice. This comes as no real surprise given that cities are living systems of people, networks and connections. People are at the heart of civic innovation systems and bring to it different motivations (link back to blog 1).
Our insights highlighted the need to identify what is important to all the people involved in the process (as this can, quite naturally vary). An underlying theme from reviewing case studies of inclusive and collaborative innovation was the need to ‘start from values’ - the need to understand and articulate what matters most to those involved, based on their different perspectives. Values play a fundamental part in innovation practice. They determine where we place our attention, how we create our own sense of reality and therefore how we might frame and design a more inclusive, collaborative approach.
Another reflection from looking across the case studies was the need to create ‘space’ to articulate less ‘tangible’ aspects of such innovation practice (which have broader goals than economic development).
We saw value (excuse the pun!) in making values explicit. Articulating values demands to look across inputs, activities, and their explicit assumptions and judgements about what is important and what outcomes and impact are being sought (beyond specific challenges or project deliverables). We were keen to understand more about the diversity of experiences and approaches undertaken and to explore the role of values in inclusive and collaborative innovation practice, including whether there were shared values amongst a group of practitioners. To this end we brought together researchers, practitioners and public sector officials all working in the context of civic innovation for a workshop.
Learning from practitioners of inclusive and collaborative innovation practice
The aim of the workshop was to co-create a framework which identified the underlying values and reflective questions which are fundamental for effective, impactful practice. The framework is expected to support those delivering or supporting inclusive and collaborative innovation. This would, potentially:
- reflect the common beliefs and understandings of those working in the field of inclusive and collaborative innovation, which underlies best practice
- be used to inform the processes of innovation, and improve what happens as a result
- be a tool for evaluation, in terms of critical reflection on innovation practice.
The workshop was structured around three main activities (i) challenges and enablers, ii) underpinning values, and iii) reflective questions, dividing the participants into small groups to generate ideas, share insights and work together on co-creating a shared set of values for inclusive and collaborative innovation.
For the first activity participants at the workshop shared their experiences of what had been challenging or had hindered them in taking a more inclusive and collaborative approach. We then asked them to share what had helped them to overcome those challenges to help us understand what had acted as an enabler. The headline challenges and enablers shared during the workshop are set out in the table below.
What was apparent was that the challenges and enablers reflected a set of value-centred motivations and ways to manage or design the process to allow for those. For example a challenge included how to ensure inclusion and/or representativeness and the enablers included ways to design-in agency and build capacity to ensure a balance of perspectives and active involvement in the process.
Table 1: Challenges and Enablers
What values underpin this way of working?
Within the workshop we created a space for reflection, undertaking an activity that was focused on eliciting the values that underpin the practice of delivering such an approach. Those participating came ‘openly’ into the activity - and in doing so the discussion uncovered the conditions for achieving more inclusive and collaborative innovation. It was clear that some of the participants had previously thought about the principles underlying their work (e.g. Sacha Haselmayer’s reflections in the Slow Lane which includes a set of guiding principles and the NY Mayor’s CTO office which has its own set of inclusive principles), and had considered the personal and organisational perspectives linked to their practice.
Despite this, our activity within the workshop, bringing together those involved in innovation to discuss their work, provided a critical lens for examining values - and space to listen to others. Although a bullet pointed list doesn’t fully capture the concept of values - and the intersubjectivity within them - below we provide a list of the values that were noted by participants within our workshop. We are keen to explore different ways to represent these values e.g. drawings, illustrations etc (please get in touch if you have ideas!). Our key values:
- Equity - Our innovation programmes and projects are led and delivered in a culture that acknowledges fairness and justice and makes adjustments to address imbalances of power Participation - Our innovation programmes and projects prioritise participatory practices and capacity building and sharing. The programmes and projects are developed and designed with a range of partners and people (e.g. communities, industry, government, researchers)
- Integrity - We strive for integrity in our work, being honest with ourselves and others. There are differences and tensions within collaboration, and difficult decisions are made - we aim for dialogue and transparency.
- Adaptability & agility - Innovation is messy, and that is fine - we are keen to be agile in our work, adapting and responding to needs and challenges.
- Evidence-centred in approach - We recognise and build on a range of evidence, which informs our practice - both in understanding the challenge and seeking solutions. Through evaluation and reflection, we see our work as contributing to evidence.
Reflective Questions for Civic Innovation Practitioners
The set of reflective questions below are based on our ‘values’, shared values that underpin our work on inclusive and collaborative innovation. They are sourced from the priorities we decided on in our co-creation workshop session. These are based on experience of practitioners and researchers and are designed to help those involved in inclusive and collaborative innovation to reflect on the processes, identify challenges and, ultimately, support improvement. These were circulated to the group, and four respondents prioritised and reframed the questions.
Our innovation programmes and projects are led and delivered in a culture that acknowledges fairness and justice in both process and outcomes and makes adjustments to imbalances of power
Are we working from the outset (i.e. from challenge identification, scope and process design) to enable a more equitable innovation model?
Are we identifying the power differences amongst those involved in the challenge process and taking steps to share power differently?
Are we considering what our work will lead to - what changes, for whom?
Our innovation programmes and projects prioritise participatory practices and capacity building and sharing. The programmes and projects are developed and designed with a range of partners and people (e.g. communities, industry, government, researchers)
Are we ensuring the voices of those most directly affected by the challenge are included in the process, especially those who are less often heard?
Are we respecting the diversity of experiences and perspectives of those involved in the challenge and supporting them to express their views and share their experiences?
How are we balancing different views and perspectives to build consensus and/or resolve conflict in the challenges taken forward and the process of deciding solutions?
Integrity & transparency
We strive for integrity in our work, being honest with ourselves and others. There are differences and tensions within collaboration, and difficult decisions are made - we aim for dialogue and transparency.
Have we created the opportunity and support for everyone involved to be open and honest with each other?
How are we working together to build trust and maintain legitimacy throughout the whole challenge process?
Are we challenging ourselves and each other to consider the full impact of this challenge and the wider system impacts of the solutions being proposed/put forward?
Adaptability & agility
Innovation is messy, and that is fine - we are keen to be agile in our work, adapting and responding to changing needs and challenges.
Are we open to the learning the challenge process is uncovering and responding by adapting our approaches and/or changing direction as needed?
Are we mindful of the dynamic nature of the systems and boundaries we are working within and are we able to work flexibly within those?
centred in approach
We recognise and build on a range of evidence, which informs our practice - both in understanding the challenge and seeking solutions. Through evaluation and reflection, we see our work as contributing to evidence.
How are we ensuring we have sufficient knowledge/evidence to fully understand the challenge we are addressing and/or possible solutions?
Are the approaches we are taking to evidence gathering enabling a range of evidence types to be included i.e. lived experience, research etc.?
Further areas to explore/encourage exploration:
What have we learnt? The workshop highlighted, to us, that a values-based approach to understanding the inclusive and collaborative innovation can:
• enable a deeper understanding of practice
• provide a mechanism to share learning across those delivering and supporting innovation • reflect upon and negotiate the role of leadership in future innovation
Future aspects that we are keen to explore:
Using the values lens and reflective questions in a real project, to guide development and map impacts of such work. How we unlock the potential of the civic city through a challenge-based approach – thinking about the component parts of an inclusive, collaborative approach (i.e. leadership, organisational structures and coordination, capacity building, participation, etc).
Follow the first blog here.
- Designing London’s Recovery - https://www.london.gov.uk/what-we-do/business-and-economy/supporting-londons-sectors/challenge-ldn/designing-londons-recovery
- Project CUSSH - https://projectcussh.org/
- NYC Challenges - http://www.nyc.gov/html/nycx/challenges.html
- Vinnova - https://www.vinnova.se/en/m/missions/
- Prior UCL research in this field - https://www.ucl.ac.uk/bartlett/environmental-design/news/2022/aug/what-inclusive-and-collaborative-civic-innovation-and-why-we-are-exploring-it
- Sacha Haselmayer’s Slow Lane - https://slowlane.us/slow-lane-principles/
Photo credit: Olga Lioncat / pexels.com