Innovation Week 2012 – Keynote address

How do you achieve impact from innovation and ensure that it drives the changes that are needed?

These were questions considered in the keynote address for Innovation Week 2012 –  “achieving impact from innovation” – given by Dr Bronwyn Harch, Deputy Director of the Sustainable Agriculture Flagship, CSIRO. Dr Harch spoke not only about how innovation had played a key role in her work but also as an important part of her own personal career progression.

She began by referring to an image of a water droplet hitting water and making a splash – she noted that in the Sustainable Agriculture Flagship they are trying to take ideas (water droplets) and turn them into impact (a big splash). That is easier said than done as research increasingly needs to demonstrate its value, and in order to do so we need to a) better measure the impact of the research, and b) in turn, be able to evaluate that impact.

In the CSIRO they have been using an action learning methodology to help inform their efforts, with a cycle of learn, plan, act and observe (which feeds back into learning).

Dr Harch made a number of points that were very relevant for when you (or your work area) introduces a new idea:

  • You need to understand the context and the drivers that are behind the proposed innovation. For the Flagship this related to pressures for global food security, but in your own work area you need to know what the factors are that mean the current way of doing things needs to change? Dr Harch recommended that at the personal level we should also be aware of our own context and drivers and be aware of when they are acting on us. They may not be the same drivers as those affecting our colleagues or their perspective of the situation
  • We need to consider the impact of the ideas. Particularly we should think about and identify the people who are going to benefit from the changes
  • How does the proposed change fit with the ‘big picture’ and the aims of the organisation? How is it going to help the organisation achieve its stated goals?
  • It is important to have a simple and powerful communication piece that can easily convey what you are trying to achieve with the idea, and why
  • Consider your circle of influence – does it overlap with those who are going to benefit from the idea? If not, how are you going to affect the intermediaries, the people in-between you and the beneficiaries who will make or break the idea?
  • If discrete and differing areas of the organisation are involved, what is the common goal that will bring together the different bits of the larger ‘clan’?
  • Can you show the benefits of the impact from the idea above and beyond those coming from what people are already doing in their day-to-day work? If not, why are they going to follow through with the idea?
  • You need lead indicators to see if the innovation is already making a difference. If the idea is different to how things are done now, then the existing measures may not pick up its impact for a long time, and you may lose support for your idea in the mean time
  •  Is there a ‘clear line of sight’ covering the work of the organisation, the impacts of the idea, and the overall outcomes? If there is not, the organisation may lose sight of the importance of the idea. You need to be able to show how the introduction of the idea and the work of the organisations leads to different impacts and then into real outcomes
  • Dr Harch also emphasised that you need to make sure you don’t get too far ahead of people with an idea or you risk leaving them behind and losing support.

It was a great presentation of the practicalities of introducing and seeing through an innovation informed by personal experience.

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