Barriers to Innovation

As a JISC Innovation Support Centre we often discuss the conditions needed to foster innovation, at local as well as national levels. So I was interested to come across this Futurelab literature review on Overcoming the Barriers to Educational Innovation by Kieron Kirkland and Dan Sutch.

Although the report focusses on innovation in schools, there is a lot that is directly applicable to universities and colleges. The authors group barriers into the following key themes:

“1. Innovation
2. Informal and social support structures
3. Formal environment
4. Risk aversion
5. Leadership
6. Shared vision
7. Change management”

I was particularly interested on the findings in the risk aversion theme:

“Core findings under risk-taking include:

* Innovation inherently engages in some degree of risk which can make individuals reluctant to innovate.

* Iterative change management cycles can mitigate some fears which impede innovation, such as fear of failure.

* To overcome risk aversion there needs to be motivation to innovate – this can be internal motivations, such as teachers wishing to improve the learning experience for pupils, or external motivations, such as pressure from above.

* Management style is core to supporting risk-taking behaviours, through encouragement and creating a sense of permission to engage in appropriate risktaking. This can be applied on a local level or on a wider national level.

* Institutional level practices have an important role in mitigating risk-taking, e.g. running pilot programmes and sound evaluation procedures.

* National level funding has a significant impact of risktaking behaviour.”

The last point is particularly relevant to the work of JISC emphasises “taking the risks that institutions would not normally take themselves” (JISC Draft Strategy 2010-2012).

However you could argue that it is actually individual projects who are taking the “risks”, and they will be under pressure both internally (from their management who endorsed their project) and externally (from JISC) to succeed.

The JISC Draft Strategy 2010-2012 outlines a framework for managing risk at a national level, perhaps projects too need more guidance on managing risk in their projects.

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