Innovation is one of the great buzzwords of the modern world. To some extent, its meaning has been dramatically watered-down as every insurance company, restaurant chain and fashion label going has tried to adopt it as a core value. Yet it still has a simple and true meaning: finding new ways of doing things. At Youthscape, we use it to describe the process that we use to develop new ideas which try to solve existing problems, or meet emerging opportunities.
Innovation isn’t the domain of a few creative geniuses, nor is it simply the idea you had in the shower this morning. Innovation is about embracing a culture of creativity which includes plenty of hard work, and a fair share of failure.
Great innovators throughout history, as well as the many working today, have committed themselves to a robust process of development which includes lots of creative thinking, testing, enhancing and evaluating.
We want to do the same thing, and encourage everyone involved in youth work to join us. We believe that we can learn a lot from how Apple, Samsung, Google and others do innovation. Although we’re developing resources, events and programmes for human beings, rather than products that will drive a profit, we think that some of the lessons and ideas involved in creative development will transfer and apply to youth work. Of course it has limits, and is only valuable alongside many other ways of thinking about and doing ministry, but our experience in the last five years – during which we’ve developed a range of innovative resources and programmes which really seem to work – is that this is a hugely useful area for youth workers and other leaders to take seriously.
Theologically speaking, we believe that this is one of the ways in which God works through us. For us, innovation is based not only in serious creative work, but also in prayer and listening. We serve a God who is not just creative, but ultimately the source of all creativity, and he has given us incredibly powerful brains, the gift of hard work and the awesome power of his Holy Spirit. The combination of these three God-given resources could be the key to awesome new ideas and ways of doing ministry among young people.
In the last few years, we’ve tried to put innovation at the heart of our work with young people and their leaders, both in Luton, and across the UK. It’s reflected in the way we structure our team, and even the way we designed our office. But it’s not ‘ours’ – we just want to encourage as many churches, organisations and individuals as possible to embrace some simple principles, and then feel released to go out and innovate where they are.
The easiest way to explain this is by introducing the process which we use at Youthscape.
The Youthscape Innovation Process
At Youthscape we follow a 5 step innovation process, which we have reworked and refined over the years. You can read about it in more detail on its own page, but here is a brief summary.
Good innovation starts ahead of the idea. We work hard at listening – to young people, to their culture, and to those that work with them. By listening to teachers, parents, media – and most importantly to teenagers themselves – we discover the issues, problems and opportunities that really need a response. A key part of this is our dedicated centre for research. Equipped with all of this intelligence, we then move on to the next phase.
We use a variety of creative exercises and techniques – not just brainstorming – to come up with a variety of creative responses to any given opportunity. We involve our whole team in this process, and this culture of collaboration enables us to harness a diverse range of creative gifts and a breadth of youth work experience. We then evaluate our ideas, and develop the very best ones.
Once we’ve decided on an idea, we work hard to ensure that we create the best version possible of it. We do this by asking a range of tough questions about how we can improve the resource, event, programme or model that we’ve begun to create. This is often the most tempting phase to skip over, but it’s arguably the part that makes the difference between good and great innovation.
Pilot & Enhance
We test everything that we do, and in most cases that happens in the context of our pioneering Luton hub. We create time-limited prototypes and pilots, and run them with the expectation that we’ll discover flaws and possible improvements. Then we make sure we put what we’ve learned into action, and create a better version ready for launch.
Launch & Evaluation
Finally, we’re ready to launch. When we do that however, we’re committed to also evaluating and learning from whatever we’ve created. We do this by evaluating against our original aims for the innovation – which forces us to set clear aims in the first place! And through the process of evaluation, we often discover new opportunities… and the process begins again.
This is a very basic version of our innovation process. For a more detailed explanation, read "The Youthscape Innovation Process" page or visit us at Bute Mills for a chat.