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Putting anticipatory innovation to work: prototyping a starter kit

Many of you working in the public sector may want to prepare for uncertainty, or set up a future-oriented vision in your organisation. Many of you may have heard of anticipatory innovation or have engaged in foresight activities, but the sheer flurry of methodologies and tools in this space can be disorientating – and they may seem to require special abilities if you are not used to apply them. For this reason, OPSI and LabX are developing an Anticipatory Innovation Starter Kit.

What is the Anticipatory Innovation Starter Kit?

Here’s the idea: as you face a problem that requires anticipatory innovation, the Anticipatory Innovation Starter Kit (or AISK) will guide you to a tool that you can use to address it. Together with our partners from LabX Portugal, OPSI is engaged in the process of developing the first prototype of the AISK.

The kit is intended for public servants and managers who are new to anticipatory innovation. As a starter kit, it aims to introduce the theme of anticipatory innovation in a way that is easy to understand, access, and use. To bridge the gap between knowledge and practice, it must start with real problems, take a “hands-on” approach, and create value for the user.

Therefore, the AISK needs to integrate three layers: it will take you from problem identification, through your intention, and to concrete tool recommendations. You can follow the user journey through the kit in the graphic below.

AISK user journey

Connecting theory and practice enables the development of better policy proposals. OPSI has been promoting a debate and providing frameworks to identify the needs and potential for anticipatory innovation in public organisations. Our report on anticipatory innovation published last month gives a deeper insight into the topic.

Where we are now

Our partners at LabX developed the idea for the AISK in early 2020. Last month, we were excited to do our first test run of the concept with a group of interested parties, from experts to the simply curious. Our participants came from diverse public and private sector roles and joined us from over 15 countries, from Finland to Pakistan.

During the testing workshop, we invited participants to challenge the concept, user experience, and logic of the AISK prototype. We also asked for their ideas for further development. Here is what we learnt.

What we learnt

Our key takeaways from the workshop were:

  1. Whose futures matter? Our insightful testers pointed out that we were missing the power dynamics that can influence futures thinking, for example in developing country contexts. We want to put a stronger focus on understanding whose viewpoints are dominant in futures thinking.
  2. Walk the talk. Communicating the insights from anticipatory innovation matters more than the tools or discourses. Otherwise, anticipatory innovation will remain disconnected from everyday practices and fall short of producing actual changes. We want to invest in helping users engage with decision-makers – both the biggest challenge and opportunity.

The principles for development we want to take forward are:

  1. Anticipatory innovation is open to all. Our testers told us that in some contexts, for example in developing countries, or in some non-innovation focussed teams, anticipatory innovation can feel off-topic or like “luxury”. We want to make our kit matter for a diverse audience and those not already in the field.
  2. Making anticipatory innovation tools usable. There is an ocean of methods, tools, and approaches for anticipatory innovation, but the smartest tools are difficult to use without help or experienced facilitators. We want to think through how we can make the methods we recommend more accessible for use.

We want to thank all the participants from the first workshop for their invaluable insights and feedback.

We need your help

LabX and OPSI are currently working on the second iteration of the kit. We need your help to take the AISK further. There are plenty of ways to get involved:

  • Contribute to developing the AISK: the AISK really only comes to life through its users. If you have feedback or ideas for the AISK, or would like to receive more information on anticipatory innovation or the AISK, please comment below or send us an email at [email protected].
  • Participate in the next workshop: we will do the second round of testing of the AISK in 2021, and we need a critical audience to help us with the next round of feedback. If you would like to participate, please email us at [email protected].
  • Join the AIG community: the value of the AISK also lies in connecting anticipatory innovation experts, practitioners and novices. If you would like to connect with other anticipatory innovation enthusiasts, please join the Anticipatory Innovation Community hosted on the OPSI website.