Intentional Innovation: How Getting More Systematic about Innovation Could Improve Philanthropy and Increase Social Impact

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Prepared for the W. K. Kellogg Foundation
August 2008
By Gabriel Kasper, Monitor Institute and Stephanie Clohesy, Clohesy Consulting

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Foreword …………………………………………………………………………………………………. 4
Introduction – Three Short Stories about Systematic Innovation …..…… 6
A Framework for Thinking About Innovation in Philanthropy …………...…. 11
- Setting the Conditions ……………………………………………………………….…..….. 14
- Problem or Opportunity Definition ……………………………………….......…..… 15
- Idea Generation …………………………………………………………….…......…...…… 18
- Piloting & Prototyping ………………………...……………………………………..……… 22
- Diffusion & Scaling …………………………………………………...…………………..…… 26
- Culture for Innovation …………………………………………...…………………..……… 29
Opportunities for Innovation in Philanthropy ………………………………...……… 34
Roles in the Innovation Process ………………………………………………………..…… 57
Conclusion …………………………………………………………………………….......…...…… 65
Selected Resources …………………………………………………………………........…… 68



“Innovation is often given complex definitions. We prefer the simple one: ‘new ideas that work.’”
– Geoff Mulgan



Innovation is about what’s new and what’s next. It’s about that exciting leap forward into uncharted territory.

Innovation is also about what works… better. It’s about that incremental step forward that makes old ideas new again and repurposes the familiar into the unexpected.

Innovation—whether small or incremental, large or disruptive—is about change. For most of us the idea of “innovation” is laced with positive and desirable assumptions about something that will be shinier, faster, cooler, better than whatever we have. For some, innovation also comes with questions about whether we really need so much that is “new”—and if the new things are so great, then how do we help everyone to get them?

The W.K. Kellogg Foundation, along with many of our sister foundations, has a long history of supporting social innovators around the world. But at a time when the roles of the sectors are shifting,new technologies are emerging by the minute, and the number of uncertainties is growing, there is a concern that foundations could become less relevant and less effective if we don’t work even harder to examine old assumptions and refresh our approaches.

To help spark and sustain a conversation about innovation in the social sector, we partnered with two firms with deep expertise in these issues—the Monitor Institute and Clohesy Consulting. This reportrepresents the findings of our work together, pulling into one place the best of current innovation theory and practice, and exploring how innovation could become a more consistent and reliable commodity for social good. We want to stress the ideas, methods, tools and “value statements” in this report were not created or developed by this foundation. We ourselves are early stage learners and users of these tools and concepts—not “the experts.” Indeed we hope you interpret this report as a
learning dialogue versus a lecture. The report itself could perhaps be viewed as a “rapid prototype,” far from complete yet sufficient to create ongoing dialogue, and so we invite your engagement to improve and refine the content moving forward.

Having set that context, the innovation landscape—as we observed it at the start of this project—is characterized by several interrelated assumptions:

  • The social sector is rich in innovation. Every day people all over the world meet their own needs and those of others, including scarcity and hardship, with ingenious new ideas and adaptations of materials and concepts to their particular purposes.
  • Too many social innovations seem episodic and isolated. Often those innovations created out of immediate and urgent needs tend to stay in too small a sphere without appropriate resources to grow to scale.
  • A systematic commitment to innovation seems to yield greater benefits to more people over time. With systematic innovation, needs and opportunities are carefully understood, the search for ideas is open, and the culture nurtures the development and scaling of innovations to yield a continuous pattern of innovation. The business sector and some areas of government have typically made the boldest commitments to systematic innovation; yet the social sector—on the front lines of so many of our planet’s and our communities’ most challenging situations—is only just beginning to explore more systematic approaches.
  • New technologies are changing the social sector. Emerging technological tools give us new options for how we connect with others, share information, and do our work. Technology literally is changing how we think.


Working from these assumptions, we went out to learn more so that we could understand what drives and supports innovation. We also wanted to go beyond a merely descriptive report to one in which tools and methods could help us all to go from thinking about innovation to “doing” it more practically and productively.

In the process, our team read more than 30 books; scoured through hundreds of articles in business, academic, and social sector publications; interviewed a dozen major thought leaders; and reviewed a wide range of reports, blogs, and websites about innovators and innovation.

Along the way we have learned some things that we believe will change our own approach to innovation. For example, though we may continue to be hopeful about the next big, new, and magical leap, we will make room for the common sense and methodical thinking that actually make innovation systematic and sustainable. We are beginning to absorb the big headline from this project: We can make innovation happen and can make it more useful by being deliberate and dedicated over time.Using a framework, such as the one suggested in the report, can help bring to the innovation process the same kind of discipline that we have learned to use in strategic planning, business development,
venture investment decisions, and more.

We can see that innovation is not just about creating new ideas; it is about finishing things we start, and about having the patience and commitment to help innovations go to scale, not just seeding the development of new things.

Within the proposed innovation framework, we have been fascinated to learn about the rapid multiplication of tools and methods for opening up the generation of ideas. From the excitement of open- and crowd-sourcing to more humble ideas like upgrading the way we brainstorm, we see a range of new options for refreshing our everyday work habits.

Our assumptions about needing to do the “right” thing “perfectly” have been challenged by digging into case studies about rapid prototyping and experimentation. In other words, can we learn to put forward a good-enough first model and let users and stakeholders help to adapt and refine the idea?At the same time our reality is that we work with big ideas and major social change and justice movements in which rapid prototyping can be a frustrating concept. So we are intrigued by the concept of “slow” prototyping that depends on more intuitive and viral self-organizing that empowers people and networks.

Our work on innovation also helped us learn about the various roles that are needed inside an organization to designate responsibility and/or accountability for exploring, doing, and sustaining innovation. It helped us see all aspects of our work, from program strategy to the accounting function,as opportunity spaces for generating innovation; and we found many examples to demonstrate innovation that is already underway across sectors.

Gabriel Kasper and Stephanie Clohesy (along with their respective teams at the Monitor Institute and Clohesy Consulting) were invaluable guides through this process, and they wrote this report, working in close collaboration with our colleague Karen Whalen and others at WKKF (see page 71 for full acknowledgements), to share what we learned more broadly within Kellogg and across the field.As we said above, we are looking forward to the discussion (and debate) that the report will likely generate inside the Kellogg Foundation. And we would like to be in dialogue with others who are beginning their own explorations of innovation, as well as with those who are leading the field. If you
have thoughts or would like to discuss the ideas in this report further, please feel free to contact us at: innovation@wkkf.org

Sterling Speirn, Anne Mosle and Tom Reis