8. OPEN space for new ideas

“The key was to remove as many barriers to social entrepreneurship as possible, and to provide some of the enablers where they were absent: finance, networks, support, and development, so that the other invisible hand could do its work.”
—Geoff Mulgan, Chief Executive, Young Foundation [from Social Entrepreneurship: New Models of Sustainable Social Change]

As mentioned above, there are any number of constraints and barriers that any innovator is bound to face in starting and then growing a new approach. You can see that these challenges are found at both the organization and city level. They are as likely to be analytical and administrative in nature as they could be political and social.

Public and private sector leaders alike can open the doors to innovation and reform by making space within an entrenched delivery system or organization. Here are some ways that have been shown to work:

Break down protectionist barriers

  • Government has an important role in enforcing safety and quality standards, but measure all rules against both their intended and unintended costs.
  • Proceed cautiously when regulating inputs that narrow offerings; limiting competition can limit quality.
  • Support informed consumers and separate the “make or buy” decision.

Build the political and community will for innovation

  • Provide the financial resources for “social” R & D.
  • Secure the civic leadership to face opposition and overcome risk aversion.
  • Identify and publicize barriers to ripen the mandate for change.

Level the playing field for new or outside providers to compete

  • Eliminate unnecessary rules that prevent small providers from entering system.
  • Utilize intermediaries to reduce administrative burdens and barriers.
  • Fund capacity building so smaller providers access regular procurement streams.

Identify and invite in exceptional innovators

  • Identify and incubate local exceptional actors (positive deviants).
  • Import new expertise into the organization or community.
  • Sunset or require performance measurement to begin making space.

Force a cultural change across the entire organization or bureaucracy

  • Go where the money is; identify gatekeeper agencies and departments.
  • Use authority to ensure all agencies or actors embrace innovation and encourage new cooperation.
  • In procurement, reduce start-up costs and do not shift all risk onto providers.

In Action

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg believes that government ought to be able to combine its funds with private dollars to find, fund and test out innovative efforts to reduce poverty and promote individual responsibility.  And he created the city’s Center for Economic Opportunity (CEO) to do just – combining $125 million in public money and $25 million from private foundations each year into an “R & D”-type innovation fund.

Providers come to the fund with their best ideas. They bid competitively for a portion of the money to implement their innovations, and CEO funds a limited number as demonstration projects – long enough to give the efforts an opportunity to succeed or fail.  External evaluations help CEO determine whether to continue and expand a program or to scale back or end it.

Learn more about CEO here.

Next: ADVOCATE for success