After we (ruralnet|uk) setup the WREN Telecottage in
1991, one of the first public access IT centres in England, we were
inundated with people who wanted to visit. We soon realised that we should run regular Open Days, one day per month and charge each person a small fee. This enabled us to put some time into thinking about what we were actually doing and what it meant and preparing a standard visitor pack. This also contributed to our staff time – and had lots of other unforeseen spin-offs, such as visitors
being able to exchange notes with each other. Many of our visitors were from
Local Authorities – while others were private entrepreneurs and developers. Soon
we had regular private group visits too, especially when we got on the 'tourist circuit' for the Japanese Ministry of Telecommunications, who paid for specially-prepared premium visits, in cash against invoice with £50 notes (!). These 'wealthier' visitors helped cross subsidise our activities.
The demand for the 'seeing is believing' type
experience is there for innovatory projects. But the effort of preparation and
time spent need to be funded from somewhere, and small third sector
organisations just can't dedicate staff time. We gathered enough resource to
prepare a valuable experience. Unfortunately we did not have the capacity to
follow-up these visits to see what happened. Were they just interesting jaunts for those involved or did they have an impact?
Hartley and Rashman (2007) have looked exchange visits between beacon Councils and concluded that this was one of the most effective tools for spreading innovation in the public sector. But there needs to be a 'framework of knowledge transfer' underlying these programmes: with effective the source organisations demonstrating both conceptual and practical skills in
understanding and preparing for this transfer, the recipient organisation being learning ready. All this has to properly resourced, with an 'enabling process'
to make it happen – and a proper evaluation.
The Innovation Exchange will need to cover all these stages, and resourcing must recognise that innovative TSOs (whether visiting or being visited) need funds as well as
help to get the most out of the experience.
See: Hartley and Rashman (2007) How is knowledge transferred between organisations involved in change? In Managing Change in the Public Services edited by Wallace, Fertig and Schneller. In particular see Figure 9.1