Creating a Culture of Collaborative Innovation

Series 11/14: Grass Route Social Innovation – Understanding the road towards integrating genuine grassroots social innovation into sustainable development.

Mini Series 3/4: Enterprising Collaboration – The series investigates how collaboration and partnership can empower us to build a resilient and sustainable future.


A year ago I entered into the Environmental Agency Flash Flood Challenge. The problem set to students across England was to provide a solution that reduced the impact of Flash Floods. I went to work and started to ideate different technical solution to the problem. When it came to researching and developing these ideas I realised that there are plenty of well-developed solution already commercially available. I therefore started to re-frame the question and to investigate why so many people still used sand bags when far greater technical solution where available. This led to the realisation that people where widely unaware of the risks of floods and the products available to mitigate this risk. The solution therefore lies in empowering the community to work together to overcome the problem. How do you create a culture of inclusive and collaborative innovation?

Human Centred Design (HCD) provides the framework to design innovatively with the community; it therefore seems an ideal tool for collaborative research. CEDAC is a Cambodian agricultural research organisation that promotes sustainable farming. CEDAC uses the principles of Human Centred Design to empower the farming community by encouraging farmers to pioneer SRI (System of Rice Intensification) a simple method of plant, water and soil management which has increased yield by 66%. By encouraging farmers to adopt these new methods, CEDAC has created a culture of innovation within the farming community. In order to cultivate this CEDAD set up the Farmer and Nature Net (FNN). FNN is an independent network of farmers that share knowledge and new processes. CEDAC has therefore managed to harness a crowd sourced solution of practical research in which the farming community have become researchers.

Social scientists have pioneered these research principles through PPI (Public and Patient Involvement). PPI creates collaboration in between researchers and the wider community and works by involving the public throughout the project. It encourages the researcher to build up the research project around the public involvement getting to know the skills sets of the people involved. The role of the researchers is to work with the public providing training opportunities and sharing the recognition for the research. PPI also transforms the way we measure the impact of the research; It encourages researchers to consider the direct impact of their research on the community, the public involved and on policy. PPI is a great tool set to create relevant, inclusive and collaborative innovation.

CEDAC has created a platform for inclusive scientific research which uses collaboration and the theories of HCD. CEDAC works with the community and develops solutions which are not just innovative but practical and sustainable. As innovators and designers is it important that we learn from these collaborative approaches to research; applying the theories of HCD and PPI into the creative process. Open and collaborative research can transform the way we solve problems enabling us to create a sustainable and practical solution with the community.


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