This is Christian Bason's response to What are you skating towards in 2012?
Rehearsing the future
As we enter 2012, new challenges arise for MindLab, the organisation I run. An internal innovation unit for three national ministries, MindLab has for a decade assisted policy makers in crafting better and more creative solutions to society’s wicked problems.
However, MindLab's collaboration agreement with the three ministries terminates by the end of 2012, and so it must be renewed or changed. This makes us ask: What could a innovation unit look like five years from now? What should MindLab's future be, and could we begin rehearsing it this year? Today, MindLab is fully publicly funded, and we are mainly focused on citizen involvement at the front-end of the innovation process.
Here are some of the components that we are deliberating:
- Strengthen the element of implementation? Should MindLab take the change management role further and stay in (or with) the organization not just until ideas and concepts are formulated, but until implementation is completed?
- Strengthen the role of the citizens? Should MindLab openly invite citizens with innovation ideas into MindLab and help them to explore the potential of the idea. This is the approach at New Urban Mechanics, an innovation unit run by the Mayor’s office in Boston? Or should MindLab actively search for the “lead user citizens” who already have solved public problems and work on scaling their ideas?
- Horizontal expansion? Should MindLab invite additional central government ministries into the fold? This might enhance the capability to create true cross-cutting solutions, and increase trust and collaboration among an even broader section of policy fields
- Vertical inclusion? One of the mantras of the newly elected Thorning-Schmidt government in Denmark is “public-public collaboration”, across all governance levels. Could MindLab, which is already known to municipalities, play a role in enhancing collaborative governance across multiple levels of government, for instance by including a number of municipalities in its work? Or could MindLab move beyond the national level to assist international organizations such as the European Union, the United Nations and the World Bank?
- How about engaging more directly with not-for-profits, or for that matter for-profit firms, seeking to generate social returns. Would this also be an avenue?
- A consulting arm? The demand for MindLabs services has been rapidly expanding, not just within the three ministries and associated agencies, but also throughout Denmark, and globally from governments in India, Chile, the UK, Canada, Australia and US. Would it make sense for MindLab to run a profit-making entity alongside its public operation?
- More sister organisations? Just like the Ministry of Taxation has established its own internal innovation unit, might MindLab help create similar units via a network approach? Could this extend to other sectors and fields in Denmark or abroad?
- The role of research? MindLab has hosted four PhD projects and has extensive ties to research communities in design, ethnography, and public management. How should research be embedded in our work going forward?
One of the most challenging questions that arise in some of the options presented here is what the consequences would be for MindLabs governance structure. How would a vastly changed ownership situation look like?
Going into 2012, our sentiment is not to conduct vast and complex analyses to identify which are the most promising avenues to pursue. Rather, we want to “rehearse the future”, to try different approaches on a small scale, and discover what is valuable, to whom, how and why. This is, after all, the advice we offer to others. Should be interesting.
Christian Bason is Director of MindLab, a unit for citizen-centred innovation in Denmark. He is part of a vanguard who are creating meaningful ways for government to become innovative and to do so in partnership with community and business. His new book, Leading Public Sector Innovation is quickly becoming a bible for rejuvenation of the public sector.
Note: I am releasing individual essays from the collection, What are you skating towards in 2012? on a regular basis. Upcoming contributions are by Cheryl Rose, Jacques Dufresne, Linda Perry, John Mighton, Linda Couture, Sherri Torjman and many others. You can access the accumulated essays here.