My colleague Sylvia Cheuy recently gave a great overview of the Community Innovation landscape in her paper The Community Innovation Imperative. Sylvia highlighted the incredible momentum driving us towards innovation and the adoption of tools and methods to help us get there. In this context ‑ a context where innovation is increasingly the norm demanded by and of funders, government, and communities, it is particularly important to keep the following in mind:
To what end will we innovate?
This question is fundamentally important. Innovations do not start with a toolkit or a process, but with purpose: a challenge to be addressed. Microfinance and housing-first approaches to ending homelessness did not start by picking a framework from the innovation toolbox. Instead, they focused on a problem, drew upon existing tools, and built new ones to address it.
In pushing for innovation, the looming risk ahead is that we treat it as a box to be ticked, as a line item on a budget, or as merely a strategy, while taking our eyes off the change that we want to see in the world and how we intend to get there. As a facetious example, it would be a fantastic innovation for Food Banks to partner with SpaceX, for Community Health Centers to operate out of casinos, or any number of other incongruous combinations. The value of an innovation is the value of the change it effects, not its novelty, and certainly not in the process that was followed to get to that point.
But that’s not to say that innovation tools, processes, case studies, and training are valueless. Instead, keeping our eyes on the challenge to be faced helps guide us to the most appropriate resources, adjust them to our context, and create new ones as needed. Labs, social finance, and design thinking are all resources to draw upon in tackling problems – they’re exciting and present new ways of approaching challenging problems – but they are not ends in and of themselves.
Within the Tamarack Community, and particularly within the Community Innovation Idea space, we have an opportunity to explore the world of innovation and identify the tools that help us along the way, as well as the ways that we learned and adapted to setbacks. As Tamarack’s Director of Community Innovation, I’m excited to work with all of you to hear the challenges and opportunities you face, what has and hasn’t worked in your communities, and to share those lessons so that we can all grow together.
I’d love to hear from you! What are you most interested in learning about or exploring within the Community Innovation Idea area? Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and let’s get the conversation started.
- Read Sylvia’s paper: The Community Innovation Imperative
- Get inspired by stories of people who didn’t set out to innovate, but were compelled to do so by the problems they encountered in The Rise of the Reluctant Innovator by Ken Banks
- Get in touch with Galen at email@example.com