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Strengthening the ecosystem for systemic innovation

By: Cassie Robinson
On: 7th March 2013

With thanks to Cassie Robinson for this guest blog

"In December, we finished the first (if you don't count the prototype) Nominet Trust Academy. A 16 week, one week on, one week off programme, for any Nominet Trust funded project to attend. The main purpose of the Academy was to create a learning environment that would build the capacity of participants’ projects to be scaled and/or sustained.Believing that relationships and the ability to co-operate and collaborate are key for any project to scale or have wider/deeper impact at a systemic level, we designed relationships and interconnection in to the core of the programme.

Firstly relationship with peers. There is a lot of evidence of how beneficial peer learning can be, with peers that are either at a similar stage with their project development as well as those further behind or further ahead. Every other meeting of the Academy was a Peer Club, where we broke into groups for an action-learning style discussion. This not only brought new knowledge and different insights in to the cohort, but also deepened relationships, creating a more open, collaborative and supportive network of peers as the weeks went on. The peer network was developed further by inviting Nominet Trust Alumni to come and speak after each Peer Club – thank you Carrie Bishop, Tom Latchford and Adam McGregor.

Secondly, relationships with other experts and practitioners. Every other session was designed as Core Learning, with different experts delivering short presentations followed by spending a further hour with smaller groups. This allowed for the cohort to build new connections with expertise. Alongside this, we ensured that each Peer Club was hosted within different venues each time. This meant that after Peer Club, people from that organization were able to come and listen to the alumni speaker and host speaker and then join the cohort for some social time afterwards. We are grateful to the Design Council, School for Social Entrepreneurs and the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation for hosting us. We wanted to design the programme so that the Nominet Trust Academy cohort could meet with some of the many talented people working within those organisations, and acknowledge the great work many other organisations are doing in this space.

Thirdly, relationships with other innovation communities. The social start-up scene is ever-expanding in London and there are more and more great learning communities springing up to offer courses, programmes and events for social innovators and entrepreneurs. Recognising that the Nominet Academy itself could never cover all corners with such a diverse cohort, we formed relationships with General Assembly and the Hub Academy. Both offer different content and learning from the Academy programme: General Assembly has a real focus on technology and Hub Academy on the core practical learning that all start-ups and projects need. However, it wasn’t just access to other learning content that was important about these partnerships, but again wanting to connect in to the people in their communities and gain access to other relationships and expertise.

To achieve the kind of systemic innovation (interconnected sets of innovation) needed to really have an impact against the complex social challenges we face, then learning and accelerator programmes need to be designed with a more purposeful intent of connecting up dots across the whole ecosystem. That way not only do ideas become more robust and relevant but most importantly more ideas come across one another, so that they can fuse together for greater impact and scale."