Interview Q and A

After being shortlisted, the Open Innovation Exchange team started rehearsing for the interview on June 12 2007. We have developed some questions and answers - and invite you to ask us more. Just go to the comment link at the bnopttom of the page. Previously:

Why did you take such an unusual approach to developing the bid
Our experience is that conventional responses to tenders of this type have a number of limitations. It is difficult to understand user needs in advance; until you do understand needs it is difficult to design work packages and put together an appropriate team; you may want to work with others, but find they are competitors.
Our approach involve potential users from the start, provides flexibility in work packages and team, and opens the way for later collaborations.
It is also a lot more motivating, and builds a strong team who will be able to start work quickly.

Will it be difficult for others to join a team working in this way?
Not if they join with an open attitude, we believe. We welcomed people into the bid as we developed it. A lot of our work is in mixed teams.

What is your expertise in Third Sector innovation?
We have all developed innovative projects within the sector, and so have first-hand experience of what is involved. We have developed - on the Open Innovation Exchange site - one model of how to foster innovation, and that has gained a lot of support.
However, the key issue here is not to be an innovation expert - but to help others exchange their experience of innovation. We have a lot of experience of that in the team - and have demonstrated through the Open Innovation Exchange how to extend that in an innovative fashion.

Why do you think that your approach to facilitation and exchange has particular value?
Two reasons: one about the need to mix open and managed, the other about creating the right conditions.
First, there is a lot of buzz around at present about the scope for co-creation and collaboration - but as the item on the Open Innovation Exchange spells out there are clear conditions for this to succeed, borne of experience in the open source field. You need a mix of central management and open exchange and contribution - the cathedral and the bazaar. Our team is skilled in that. We showed in the bid development how it can be done.
Second, people will share if they feel they can trust the others involved. That's easiest if the style of operation creates good relationships and a trusted space. Again, we have a lot of experience of that, and have demonstrated what's possible over a period of weeks from a standing start.

How can we be sure that you have the capacity and management skills to deliver this project?
Ruralnet has substantial experience of managing consortia to deliver projects with a mix of online and offline activities. Our open approach enables us to bring in any other expertise to complement our core management. Our strength lies in the ability to combines very solid project management capability with flexible, innovative and collaborative approaches.

Why do you think you team can manage this project better than established organisations in the field?
First, we should say that if we win the contract we will be delighted to work with any of the other organisations in the field on implementation. Once the contract is agreed, it is not "us and them" - obviously provided they too are prepared to collaborate.
Second, we think that there is an advantage in neutrality. In order to be a facilitator you have to be seen to be on everyone's side, without an agenda of your own.

What online system will you use
Our partners Delib - and others in the consortium - have very extensive experience of setting up and running a wide range of online systems. We will develop whatever system is appropriate, after initial workshops and research. We would expect to do that with the involvement of potential users.
We believe it is a mistake to determine a system in advance of knowing requirements, users, and their preferences and skills.
In addition, we do not expect there to be one system. These days people are in a lot of different online places. Our core place will join up with other places.

Could we take some of your proposals and team, and amalgamate with another bid?
In principle, yes of course, because we have said that we are open to further collaborations. However, we are proposing an open style of working, combined with tight project management, and would want to ensure both are at the core of any remixed consortium. They are not add-ons.

Your workpackages appear to cover an awful lot of activity: how confident are you that your quoted budget is realistic and how can you reassure us that the deliverables and budget will both be kept to?
I'm just asking questions for now :)

What do you consider to be your biggest weakness? What is the single thing most likely to damage your plans?
I'm just asking questions for now :)

We appreciate the collaborative, inclusive approach you are taking to this work; however, isn't it going to make the management and administration of a large, ongoing project like this a complete nightmare? Who's going to maintain permission / view lists, contact databases etc?
I'm just asking questions for now :)

Your proposal comprises some pretty sophisticated elements: are you confident that the barriers to entry are sufficiently low for the target audience? How will this proposal help those who are not already some way along towards being innovators?
I'm just asking questions for now :)

What contingency plans do you have in place? What happens when you run out of money?
I'm just asking questions for now :)

How do you envisage the working relationship between the OIEC and the OTS shaping up? What are our (OTS's) responsibilities in delivering your proposal?
I'm just asking questions for now :)


Possible Questions

Having survived the bidding process for the Digital Challenge there are one or two things I can possibly offer. In all that has been said so far nobody has mentioned the user journey, describe a typical user journey through your system - who is a typical user, what do they want and how do they get it?

A story that came out of the DC10 process: allegedly one team was told; "You look like a bunch of men in suits, why should I choose your bid?" are you sure that your bid team is representative?

Our stories

Great minds think alike! Ben came up with the same idea. The have come up with three stories.

Story #1 - Innovation in Children's Services is here.

The other two are below - comments welcome:

Story #2 – Graft and Grow Story
Four years ago, a furniture re-cycling project, owned by a community-based charity, planned to diversify through a new social enterprise, recycling white goods and computers, in anticipation of the WEE directive. The initiative had multiple aims cutting across many different public service and third sector issues:

- linking with Local Authority waste management programmes and targets
- training for young adults
- job creation
- creation of income for its parent community regeneration charity
- sustainability, in many different senses

Its first four years were a catalogue of challenges and struggles, with stop-go grants, changes in funding schemes, moving policy ‘goal-posts’, delays in the WEE legislation, and shifting partnerships – all requiring several complete re-writes of its Business Plan.

Key success factors during this difficult birth include the determination of its dynamic CEO, Ali, and her ability to network and lever in support from diverse sources, the dedication of her board, and on-going support from the partner Local Authority. The LA was able took a long-term view, and has an enlightened attitude to risk and to third sector partnerships. Crucially, the organisation ploughed much of its grant funding into building and documenting the processes that now make the organisation function well, including a computerised stock-control system with bar-code tracking and quality-testing of every item.

In the meantime, many other ‘green’ recycling organisations have sprung up over the country, all with different models. Some are in LA partnerships, others not. They have diverse strengths and weaknesses. There are sources of support and advice from many different agencies and initiatives, but it’s a full time job in itself just tracking these. Ali has learnt a lot the hard way; she’s willing to help others but already the level of interest is swamping her ‘proper job’.

Ali had heard about the Open Innovation Exchange but didn’t follow up as she already had more interest than she could manage. But at a CRed event, an OIE workshop helps her with ideas on how to separate what she can share and what she could exploit: the database. It also gives her some ideas about how to filter and manage all the interest she’s getting. She registers on the OIE site, uploads a recent presentation to the resources area and does an FAQ outline. This helps shorten all the phonecalls and email enquiries she gets; she makes a link from her website. She also registers to host a maximum of OIE three learning visits over the next year, announces the dates and registers for a grant to contribute to costs. She’s now decided to channel all the other interest she gets from elsewhere into these three dates.

She asks a question in Experts Online about how to sell her database, and realises that IT support to others who use her software will be a big challenge. A visit to Business Link confirms she’ll need specialist advice, probably some development funding and a new level of expertise in IT. The idea goes on the back burner as day-to-day management issues take over.

Three months later an e-zine from the OIE has a case study on franchising that gets her thinking again. Her first learning visit for the OIE is coming up and as she’s planning for that she re-visits the OIE forums. She sees that the brokerage scheme is now in place for mentor visits. You need to be clear on the focus of what you want, and she can’t give it the thinking time just now.

However, the learning visit is a success – four organisations come via the OIE and another five via other sources. Ali sends in the details and claims her OIE grant. She’s decided next time to supplement the grant by making a small charge to each visitor and providing a full information pack. One visitor shares a lot in common and they agree to continue working informally. Another has attended a Common Purpose event, thanks to an OIE bursary. The most interesting visitor had had an investment from a business angel via CommunityInnovationUK. It was to do with franchise development, and as the pieces start to fall into place she can see this could be a hook for the database sharing idea and anyway would be a good area for that mentoring request.

Story #3 – Invest in Success Story
A member of the Local Authority Youth Services team reads about the Open Innovation Exchange in their internal staff magazine. A colleague had met up with an Exchange member at a Common Purpose event and has written an article on it.

The LA is looking for innovative ways to engage and support young people and link them into education and advice services more informally. So she visits the OIE website. There are a lot of links to innovative projects and partnerships. In just a few clicks she is reading about a ready-made franchise for Youth Cafes in schools, which a social enterprise has been spreading across several counties in the neighbouring region.

She gives the contact a call and visits. Within 18 months a contract is in place and the first cafes are opening in her local schools. By this time she’s forgotten where she first made the link, until a researcher doing a longitudinal study on the OIE gives her a call. He’s been referred by the cafe franchisor, and she’s happy to explain how most of the support to the local community project managers comes via the franchise, and she’s seen first hand how that can speed up implementation, and reduces both risk and workload for the LA.

This call prompts her to revisit the site and she picks up several new ideas that fit with the Eco-schools programme she’s now working on – including a ‘green’ work placements scheme and a local food initiative.




Preconceptions of Web2.0

One hopes you won't encounter this, but sometimes advocating the Web2.0 approach risks pressing all the wrong buttons if there's any preconception about "social networking tools" encouraging streams of vacuous tittle-tattle... rather than a focused exchange of experience between a community of practitioners. One hopes the Delib examples of past deliverables will provide sufficient "gravitas", (JISC Inform, etc) but it does assume users to be articulate cognocenti of these media.

But that's OK. One hopes that one isn't just going to provide just a medium for collaboration.... one also has to manage that medium with some deft and patient champions.

Moderation and facilitation (when done well) are not really any different (in principle) to running an effective meeting... a good chairperson (or even a class-teacher ) manages three strands, concurrently...

  • content
  • time
  • emotion

...and for the Wiki/Community-blog approach to work well, it has to engage with champions who can do that.

So, whilst I'm confident that one can mash-up some very powerful IT facilitation tools, I feel one has to be prepared to give assurance there's an awareness of expecting to manage the "facilitation" as much as one manages the technology of facilitation.

Hope that makes sense.

Roger Greenhalgh



initial thoughts are, a little devil's advocately;

Some of the answers are a bit woolly at the mo. Always a tough one, you
go into a pitch saying we'lll be open to what you want, and they say
'but we wanted you to tell us what to do', or you go in with a firm
plan and they say 'so you're not open to what we want to do'. Have come
unstuck on both sides of the coin before now, and it's a judgement call

A way round this though could be to take the open approach, but then
say 'one thing we might think of doing is...'. Especially on the
question of what online system will be used, could be tightened up with
keeping the initial bit but adding 'one approach would be to co-locate
an interweb with bobo traverse at 73mghz globally for an increasing
duration to ensure compatibility' (or something).

Likewise the one about proof capacity and management skills could do
with some facts, figures and proven case studies to make it firmer.

I guess the model is 'here's what we can do, here's an example of a
time we've done it, here's what we'd think of doing/would do here'. At
the moment it's all a bit too weighted towards the first point.

On the workpackages covering a lot and certainty around delivery,
there's a lot of the usual PRINCE2 style stuff about checkpoint
reports, monthly review meetings, etc that could go in there. Also lots
of stuff around what will happen if things do go wrong, how that will
be factored in (be honest that things never go 100% to plan with web
projects) and what will be done to fix it. Kinda drawing up a risk log
PRINCE2 style, analysing the likelihood of that risk happening and what
will be done to address it.

Biggest weakness - dunno, always dislike that question. Again though,
identify some honest ones and fixes for them. The open consortium thing
is possibly a big one in an ironic way, so ensuring there's good
management and structure around all of these different people
contributing to remove a tower of babel situation. This kinda covers
the question below the weakness one too

On ed's point on ROI, there's little out there about this at the
moment, public sector forums laid into that fact the other day around
the national project and ICELE. Good to come up with some benchmarks
for it (through initial benchmarking) then talk of how you'll
distribute the ROI analysis model for use across the e-participation
community, adding value.

Practical examples

I agree with the comments showing the need to reinforce innovative approaches as the project is live, but to show examples of possibilities at interview. I would have more than one example 'card' in my deck. Something like, "we can never know what people will want to use and engage with until they are involved - that is one of the strenghts of our bid. But we do know, for instance, when we use tried and tested tools for engagement, that we can get real owned results. (you'll have your own examples, but of many I have, one is a consultation with groups who used a community centre, done with charts and mapping when each group met, which ended up demonstrating the need for core admin, not an expanded building which is what the management thought was needed. A much cheaper, owned and real innovation, resulting from tested methods of enquiry.) As I am part of the group of us who may well jump with lots of ideas when you win the contract, you are welcome to use this. You could collect a range of examples and say, "one of our partners told us this.... and other, this... we expect to be this reactive and creative in the ways we move forward and stress we cannot design before we consult."

I also agree with the PRINCE templates. The known name of a trusted management tool gives credibility to the reality that the core team will have the management tools necessary to keep on top of diverse and moving projects.

My bottom line on all this is that real innovation is scary to those who have not done it and they think it will fail. We have tendered for work which proposed training residents in research methods so they could research among their own constituents, to be met with, "they would'nt want to do that" - the door blocked before any movement at all. That this has been shortlisted (and WELL DONE!!!) is terrific. But I would say that though you press the innovation, you keep trundling out real examples of where it has worked, where it has brought net benefit, where being responsive with clear tools has created efficient practical responses. (a net:gain responden, having created an innovative solution to his technical problem as a consequence of his involvement in the innovation which is net:gain ( said, "the ICT strategy has not resulted not so much
in savings, but in more for the same – more patients served more effectively for
the same cost. So there has been a cost
and service benefit, but not a cash benefit." Lots of real examples to make innovation sound less scary for those who fear.

(remember the way the government uses 'consultation' and thinks public meetings, not grass roots community engagement. 'innovation' could very well mean brown this week, not red.)




More questions?

I would imagine the obvious questions are about: lead partner, organisational structure, responsibility and accountability for the programme of work, clarity of focus / design by committee etc.

For them, though interesting, managing something so open and fluid makes it difficult: what will a memorandum of agreement look like if you don't know what you're going to do/use/spend? [NB - I'm not saying I think this, just what they might be...]

How can you convince them that this isn't just a novel approach, a gimmick? (though the fact you've been shortlisted shows they think it has merit)

What do you think are the primary risks if we invest in this project?



Best of luck....

more questions

Distributed communities:

1. you talk about distributed communities and not having a dedicated central space from the start. won't this weaken the community from the beginning? wouldn't it be better for eveyrone to know where to go from the start? (point about walled gardens vs distributed networks)


2. how will you evaluate this? We're a bit worried that your 'emergent' approach may not give us the reliable progress evaluation we need


3. how will you prove it?


Evaluation must/will be considered very carefully to see what the best way of delivering reliable and useful feedback to the funder. Whilst this may seem pretty obvious, how many projects suffer in terms of compromise and wasted energy because they are evaluation driven, rather than evaluation being a natural product of the work undertaken. I would see this as a great oppportunity to see what can be done to evolve this process.


Perhaps part of this solution will be recordabable with webstats and web based evidence. Moreover perhaps this coalition will be free of the need to produce highly polished results from the start. Thus we will be able to release early and release often as per the Open Source methododology, without too much worry about polish.i.e. the funders will be protected from the effects of working with a cathedral, although they will have to comproimise a llittle perhaps and put up with the noise of a bazaar.


This will mean that that from the funders point of view, their will be little chance of (politcal) burial of outputs Not that this ever happens. [ahem]. Following this method will also highlight errors early on, and generate all the enthusasm associated with rapid results and community participation. I cite Mozilla Firefox.



This can perhaps be proven in terms of a vibrant online community. As opposed to a trophy project that sits on a shelf collecting dust after it has been shutdown?

ROI - Projects shutting down

Interesting . . . . recently the Commission for Rural Communities had to stop funding the NCVO's rural policy team because they have had their own budget severely cut back. This NCVO team had been running for many many years. Apart from anything else they built up an email list of 500+ people. That is, a self-selecting group of people over the whole of the UK interested in rural policy*. When the CRC stopped their funding, the NCVO team dispersed and the mailing list (network) vanished without a trace . . .


* this was a one-way list (ie form the centre out)

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