Open for progress

The diversity of London’s people has built it into a world capital. Open innovation, or OI, works on a similar principle. The best ideas can be found beyond an organisation’s four walls, finding better solutions by engaging a diverse range of experts.

Chris Turner

Head of Open Innovation at C Space

On July 18th 2016, London’s Mayor Sadiq Kahn launched the #LondonIsOpen campaign, designed to encourage international partnerships, invite tourists and foreign workers, and reassure London’s one million foreign nationals that they will always remain welcome. The dust was still settling following the shock victory of the Brexiteers; the urgency of the mayor’s campaign reflected the gravity of the issues at stake.

London is one of the few cities that can lay claim to being a world capital; combining formidable economic clout with a disproportionate cultural significance. With the launch of #LondonIsOpen came the implicit message that London owes so much of this to its position as one of the most diverse cities in the world – to an openness engrained in its heritage and validated through a consistent ability to define progress.

Here lies a contradiction at the heart of today’s political debate – a dialogue increasingly framed by a fear of ‘the other’ – great cities manifest diversity at an unparalleled scale, embracing differences and adapting ferociously to integrate new perspectives into an always-evolving shared identity. And yet these cities reject reactionary rhetoric, standing fast in defence of liberalism and progressive politics. In the same way that London resisted Brexit, Boston – C Space’s other home – overwhelmingly voted against Donald Trump’s divisive presidential campaign.

Cities such as London and Boston therefore have a powerful story to tell. They not only prove societies’ capacity for integration, they demonstrate that creativity, strength, dynamism and economic success are catalysed by people united in their differences.

But telling this story has not been enough. The monotone of populism has drowned out the harmonies of progressivism, and the base appeal of insular protectionism has found an audience where rational and moral appeals for openness fall flat. In the context of this lopsided debate, cities still face huge challenges, not only those linked to integration and diversity, but others – such as sustainability and urban planning – that have even further-reaching consequences.

By 2050, 70% of the world’s population will be urban. Solving the issues that cities face is urgent in today’s context, and imperative in the broader sweep of human progress. This is the opportunity: to create lasting solutions that prove the power of diversity, demonstrate a shared vision of the future, and have an immediate positive impact.

This is where Open Innovation comes in. While Open Innovation takes many forms, the basic principle remains the same: the best ideas come from engaging a diverse range of experts.

C Space builds on this principle to deliver Open Innovation solutions built on collaborative communities of internal and external experts. We design programmes that transform these communities into continuous innovation ecosystems that become strategic assets. We bring to life our own Open Innovation principles: Diversity breeds results. Creativity is democratic. Purpose drives collaboration.

So as we look back to our great cities, what could be more powerful than tackling their challenges using an approach that embodies the principles of progressivism?

Imagine an ecosystem of great thinkers, experts from all disciplines needed to reshape our urban environments, from environmentalists to lawyers, anthropologists to economists, teachers to architects. And imagine both citizens and policymakers playing a vital role in this ecosystem, co-creating solutions with experts to ensure they are workable and to guarantee their practical benefits for everyone involved. This is Design Thinking. At Scale.

Cities are now embracing the concept of Open Innovation with ‘smart cities’ projects, driving the creation of digital platforms that integrate open data (data that is freely available to everyone to use and republish) into policymaking. This is a great first step, harnessing existing data to help data-driven decision-making and to welcome the innovative potential of entrepreneurial approaches into policy and planning.

However, these integrative digital approaches are only the first step. Bringing data into decision-making does not bring people and their ideas into decision-making, nor does it capture the thinking of experts and the power of divergent perspectives. To achieve all this, cities need to embrace a new paradigm that heralds the creation of collaborative communities: Open Innovation.

Take, for example, the challenge posed by London’s housing crisis. On face value a simple issue of supply and demand; this is instead an issue of conflicting interests which demands collaboration between private developers, policymakers, researchers, and citizens. Imagine a community made up of all these groups brought together on a versatile, moderated online platform. The challenge is brought to life through a single case study, one that captures the conflicting interests and nuances of the housing crisis.

At C Space, our online Open Innovation work draws from the best of co-creation and innovation methodologies to harness the insight that comes from diverse perspectives and fields of expertise. The ideation that follows is also a product of this diversity. This isn’t a competition for the best solution. It’s not crowdsourcing. It’s a truly collaborative process that sees ideas stretched and built upon to find compromises and breakthroughs.

As challenges become more complex, the difficulty of implementing a practical Open Innovation solution is amplified. But so is the potential for breakthroughs. Great cities such as London and Boston can adopt this approach, channel their diversity into a problem-solving engine, and prove that progress is not simply a product of openness – it relies on it.

If you’d like to hear more about C Space Open Innovation, contact our head of OI, Chris Turner.

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