Top tips

How innovation helps our communities

What does it mean to innovate? What happens when communities are free to experiment? I have been tackling these questions to look at how we support community growth in education and research, raise their profiles and keep ahead of the next big thing.

Community rarely grows without experimentation. Trying new things can be daunting, but these changes can keep our communities alive.

I hosted a workshop to explore pioneers and innovation with Jisc’s community managers and community champions. We asked what innovation means and how we can  encourage more in our communities.

Why do we need innovation?

Through innovation and experimentation, we keep things fresh. Our communities are places looking to make a difference. They connect with people to share and learn. It is about creating a positive impact.

All community managers know that starting and maintaining a community is hard work. An engaged and active community is what we are working towards, but this needs patience and persistence. In addition, the needs of the group change, so you must be able to adapt and find new ways to motivate people and keep their attention.

What does innovation mean?

Innovation means many things to different industries and sectors. But some common themes are being brave, adventurous, curious, and positive about failure.

These are the words that came to mind when I asked the group about what being a pioneer means to them:

Word cloud with ideas for what innovation means, includes; leader, happy to fail, creative, curious, change agent, brave, forward thinking

An innovative community culture can evolve naturally from a community of practice that focuses on sharing learning. The sooner we incorporate innovation, the more it helps a community evolve.

Creating the right conditions for innovation

Innovation does not happen without commitment. People need the time and freedom to experiment supported by peers and leadership.

I asked the group what they needed to innovate.

Word cloud with ideas for what support it needed to innovate, includes; freedom, time, resources, curiosity, critical friend, encouragement, support from others, experiment, mentors

The word cloud above highlights key factors that enable innovation, and they all link to the following areas.

Have a clear purpose

Every community needs a purpose to provide the best experience for its members, which is equally important to enable innovation.

The UK XR community aims to inspire, provide advice and guidance on how institutions can harness the potential of immersive experiences and technologies that improve the student experience.  When a community champions their cause, it supports and encourages a culture that allows for experimentation. Through experimentation we get new thoughts, ideas, and methods. From new conversations come new insights and blends of things not thought before.

A shared cause, communicated to members, gives them a sense of momentum, and helps them keep focus.

Think about your community’s purpose. Are you trying to solve a problem, learn more about your customers and build relationships, or make product/service improvements?

Build connections

Community grows when members become attracted to each other and the cause they share. Building connections, like in the accessibility community where members help each other adapt to changing regulations is vital to remove the feeling of isolation and find critical friends who can offer their ears to listen and support and even share resources.

We need this more when we experiment. Doing things alone can be difficult. When we encourage more connections, we build trust that propels change.

The big vs the small

It is common to believe that innovation must be large-scale change to have an impact. During our workshop we challenged this idea, affirming that small changes are just as powerful. Many communities are resource poor, but this often leads to more inventive thinking as they must work with what they have. These day-to-day examples we need to celebrate to remind everyone that it all matters.

The FE library LRC community started a new monthly digest newsletter to give members a summary of recent activity, providing information quickly which is a lifeline for busy individuals. The UK XR community uses a Padlet for members to write introductions, include pictures and their current work so other members can easily see what they are about and connect.

You do not have to be an expert to have a voice. It takes bravery and curiosity to try something, which must be encouraged as this leads to a more diverse, evolving community.

How do we bring this to life?

Our communities excel at creating safe spaces where we enable our peers to learn and grow. To take the next step and encourage new innovations, we must continue to support members and make them feel valued.

While we continue to think about how we encourage this with the right structure and tools, below are suggestions we can also consider.

  • Virtual meetups: workshops, show and tell, ideas room sessions.
  • Blogs: share ideas/resources.
  • Share projects and get others involved.
  • Celebrations: community champions.

Experimentation can be daunting, but when we accept risk taking and bravery as standard parts of community activity, they help bring a new and unique perspective.

Whether you are starting a new community or trying to re-build something that has fallen flat, encouraging innovation creates empowering opportunities to keep connected and discover new things.

What innovations have you tried in your community? Contact Carolina Barnes, as we would love to hear more.




Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *