Living in times of innovation


How do we innovate? Amanda Peck proposes a simple model ― based around the effective management of 'change' and 'risk'.

Almost everywhere you turn and seemingly everything you read refers to “our education system being in a time of great change”. It undeniably is, but is this really a state so foreign to those of us embedded in the educational landscape? 

Wasn’t it the late, great Professor Ted Wragg who was famously quoted as saying “if you stand still long enough in education, you become an innovator” – how profound!

Governments come and governments go, as do their ministers, advisors and policies. Most new reforms have an uncanny resemblance to previous and long-since retired initiatives. 

I ask you, is there any other public sector organisation that has managed, coped and even excelled through such a protracted era of flux than the school? Perhaps those in the NHS would disagree, but from what I have observed these last 20 years, it would be a close-fought thing.

Obviously, the swift devolution of school ownership and control into a thousand pieces is something we have not come across on this scale (well not in my lifetime). However, regardless of whether you believe what our government tells us and agree that it is all in the aid of improved standards, or if you are more cynical and believe it is about cost control and accountability, the over-riding surety is that schools will continue to teach children and young people, provide them with a safe and secure environment, and provide the second-line care, guidance and role models that they have always done.

Perhaps, however, one of the more important points that we should be debating instead is how we do even better the things that we already do well. Pushing the boundaries – despite political, operational, financial and governance pressures.

To do something better could mean doing any of the following:

Improving efficiencies (so things work quicker, smoother, more effectively).

Increasing investment (with more funding or more resource to increase capability and capacity).

In the absence of the above two, innovate!

With only my own experience as a backdrop, I believe innovation is made up of two very important and dominating elements – change and risk. These two entities are closely related, intrinsically linked and require effort to manage. 

One is almost always affected by the other. The greater the change, the greater the risk. The smaller the change, the lower the risk. 

As human beings we are equipped with a good amount of intelligence, so the more comfortable we are to change how we do things, the more comfortable we are to deal with the risk – and this degree of “comfort” is the only catalyst thrown into this equation that can reduce the risk. Make sense? Read on.

I believe that our “comfort catalysts” come in the form of confidence, good leadership and a belief. I put it to you that with a combination of confidence, good leadership and belief by all who are involved, change can be implemented without the gut-crunching fear-factor that comes with heavy risk. Magically, innovation happens.

Of course, this appears a highly simplistic view. If it were that simple, innovation would be taking place every day (I hear you say). You would be right, and in many ways, it is. But let me give a little more detail (as much as an 800-word essay allows). 

Confidence is made up of a clear strategy, measurable objectives, tested/piloted action plan, prepared skills and resources and a timeframe to get it done. Without any one of these, confidence will be hard to achieve.

Leadership is the driver that enables the confidence to be realised.

Belief comes from all the key stakeholders and implementers agreeing with the strategy, the measurable objectives, the action plan, and if they are themselves all equipped with the skills and resources to make it do-able.

If all of these factors are not in place from the start, then it will rely on the strength of leadership and confidence to carry it forward (albeit bumpily!).

Whether in the midst of a seismic shift in educational landscape, or perhaps just a small shuffle, if we are to get even better at what we are in the business of doing, we will likely need to do some innovating.

But as my (very modest) model proposes, you do not need to be Steve Jobs or Sir James Dyson to do things better, you just need the confidence to make a change and the courage to face the risks.

Amanda Peck is a board member of the 21st Century Learning Alliance.

Further information
The 21st Century Learning Alliance is a forum with representation from practitioners and industry that debates difficult issues to help stimulate improvement and change. For more information, visit or follow the Alliance on Twitter @Learning_21C.



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