One of my key areas of focus in the next year is the financial implication of innovation in our schools. Relative to even two years ago, there is an enormous agreement to the proposition that rapid global changes really do require schools to adopt a vastly more innovative approach, or risk irrelevancy. Actual implementation of those innovations are foreign to school ecosystems, and one reason is that we do not have a good history of separating and understanding the cost-benefit of innovation in terms of our value proposition.
If you fancy yourself an educator and this sounds like mumbo-jumbo from the business office, get over it; we are all in this together.
Tim Sweeney, writing in Innovation Excellence, makes the point that stacking innovation concepts into a linear queue and testing them over a period of years can cost vastly more than a multi-lateral approach that brings ideas, designers, and customers in direct contact over shorter periods of time. The later is best innovation practices. What does it look like in a school?
Schools must develop a separate structure with processes and budgets to promote innovation. These processes and budgets cannot be embedded in normal operations. They are not part of a single department of division. Schools that are succeeding with innovation have created a Chief Innovation Officer or similar title who is responsible for a parallel track of idea creation, management, and implementation that lives alongside of the traditional teaching structure. Furthermore, trying to calculate the ROI of a single innovative practice does not make sense. It is the package of ideas, developed through a culture that is sensitive and responsive to customers and the market, that will develop value over time. Creating resources within the school to grow these innovations will, if executed properly, return value.
Shoaib Shaukat, also writing in Innovation Excellence, offers several suggestions about how to create an environment that will lead to this proper execution of innovative ideas. Schools need to create structures within the organization that can take new ideas and evaluate them for value. At present, most schools do not have such a group or area of responsibility; teachers or departments are generally left to pursue areas of interest on their own. Importantly, the whole organization needs to know that this process is taking place; it must become intentional, and not tangential.
The key link between innovation and the development of value is connecting designers (teachers) closely to the customer (parents and students) in order to test ideas quickly during prototyping. We can’t wait until we have all the answers before piloting new ideas in order to get customer feedback. This makes our schools a bit messier and threatens those stakeholders who either have been viewed as “gods of knowledge” or who are comforted by thinking that the gods of knowledge will always be right in the end. We need to make those same stakeholders comfortable with a strategy that merges evolving ideas of excellent learning with the best practices of how we get there.