This is a guest post by Dan Sutch from Nominet Trust, one of Innovation Labs’ funders.
Understanding how digital technology can best support young people around issues of mental health is a challenging area of study, and equally so when it becomes the centre of a design process to create new resources and tools – but that’s what the Innovation Labs are aiming to do with support from Comic Relief, Right Here and Nominet Trust.
The Innovation Labs are an attempt to create a process for supporting the co-design of new digital resources to help young people around issues of mental health. Facilitated by Cernis, the series of labs aim to create the conditions for innovation to allow young people, mental health service providers and tech experts to work together to create new ideas for digital technologies in this important area. Lots more details about the labs can be found here. It’s the process of innovation that I’m particularly interested in as a subject for this post.
At Nominet Trust we use a particular definition of innovation that helps set the context of this process:
…the application of new ideas, generated at the intersection of insight and invention, that leads to social or economic value.
The definition is useful as it highlights three really important elements of innovation: invention, insight and application.
The invention side is something that the labs are focussing upon. Creating an environment, activities and structure for the workshop participants to be creative and to explore new ideas. Invention can be the stereotypical lone inventor in a shed but often the dialogue and interaction between people can spark exciting new ideas, and it’s this spark, idea generation and idea development (ideation) that the lab is trying to foster.
Within the definition above though, insight plays an important role too. Innovation is often seen at the intersection of disciplines, where ideas from one sector address a challenge within another. Insight, in this context, is about understanding the context, ideas in other sectors, what has been tried before or elsewhere. It’s one of the reasons that the co-design approach is so valuable when it brings together people with a range of expertise: from lived experiences of mental health issues; professional experience of delivering services; understanding of technological possibilities and expertise in the design of tools, resources or processes. All of this is built within the design of the Innovation lab: creating the conditions for ideation between different experts. But innovation isn’t just new ideas generated between invention and insight. It’s about the application of those new ideas, and that requires us to take account of the context in which the ideas will be put, and this creates an interesting tension.
One of the benefits of the innovation lab approach is that it takes people away from their daily routines into a focussed space for idea generation and development. However those ideas then need to be applicable back in those daily routines (or to intentionally disrupt them, in which case they still need to account for how they fit with those daily routines). For me, one approach to addressing this tension is to bring others into the design process that affect these ‘daily routines’ – whether they be policy makers, parents, funders, teachers etc. They bring with them a perspective and an influence on the environment in which the new ideas will be applied – and it is important to account for these in the design process.
At Nominet Trust we have a clear focus on understanding how we make best use of the resources available to us and that demands being clear about how exciting new ideas can turn into actual social value. I can’t wait for the Innovation Labs to begin…
Dan is Head of Development Research at the Nominet Trust. You can find out more about him here.