Selecting Ideas 2: Guest Blog – Groundwork UK

Graham_Duxbury_Photo_smallAt December’s Innovation Group LIVE! Graham Duxbury, Director of Development at Groundwork UK discussed Groundwork’s approach to selecting the best ideas.  Here he offers his thoughts on innovation at Groundwork and explains how the cuts can have a positive impact.

Groundwork is on the cusp of celebrating it’s 30th anniversary year, a time for reflecting on history and setting new goals for the future.  Read on to find out how Groundwork UK keeps the innovation engine going.

In the cut and thrust of life post spending review there is overwhelming pressure to look for the next contract and the next sale – to keep on moving forward for fear that any time spent standing still will allow competitors to surge ahead.

However, when times get tough taking stock becomes even more important.  Answering the questions “why are we here?” and “what are we good at?” move from being a navel gazing luxury to a survival-focused necessity.

An experiment 30 years ago Groundwork was established as an experiment – the Urban Fringe Experiment to be precise – an exercise in assembling multi-sector resources and partnerships to find new ways of tackling intractable problems of environmental, social and economic neglect in areas experiencing decline.

Some things fail The whole point of Groundwork was to innovate, to try and do things in a new way and to share successes – and failures – for the public good.  From these beginnings Groundwork became a national network of locally-focused ideas labs run by charismatic, often slightly chaotic, entrepreneurs.  Not everybody liked it.  Trying new things and making new connections sometimes meant disregarding traditional, tried and tested approaches, working around rules and boundaries and shaking up the status quo.  And when Groundwork failed there were uncomfortable consequences.

As you grow, can you remain innovative? Groundwork’s network now employs more than 1,500 professional staff and turns over more than £120 million.  It’s a big charitable business, much more organised, much more efficient.  But is it still an engine and how do we decide which of those ideas to pursue?  This is a question we ask a lot inside the organisation.  Groundwork always sought to be tied into the mainstream, to be part of the way in which disadvantaged communities are supported and sustainable development brought to life.  Of course the danger of getting what you wish for is that the initial spark that set you apart is no longer evident.

A positive side to the cuts Although clearly no cause for celebration, the impact of spending cuts is having a positive impact in this regard.  Many of the areas in which Groundwork provides services – working with young people, improving green spaces, developing new community facilities – will be among the hardest hit as local authorities and others draw up their budgets for the coming years.  And yet these are precisely the kind of activities that communities want to see continued.

The search for ideas The search is on, therefore, for ideas – the new models, new approaches and new money that will be needed to deliver the things we know people want.  In an era of localism this won’t come from any centralised initiative but from the seeding of ideas from one place to another.  The criteria for deciding which ideas to champion will also change.  It’s less about what you deliver and more about whether your idea can generate a long-term revenue stream in a genuinely entrepreneurial way.  Necessity is the mother of invention.  A cliché I know but one we genuinely need to prove as a sector just at the moment.


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