SKYrooms is a network of spaces that enable effective collaboration across sectors to inspire breakthrough innovation. The prototype, which overlooks Big Ben, was developed with IDEO and the Royal College of Art. It celebrates both historic architecture and cutting edge technology, using design to signal new ways of working, new permissions and embed an innovation culture.
Why the innovation was developed in his blog, the Cabinet Secretary highlighted the importance of “not only working in a more unified way on delivering services and creating policy, but also sharing ideas more, getting better at replicating our best technology across government, and making sure we forge strong links at a regional - and devolved - level.”
Harvard Business Review also emphasises the importance of collaboration and cross-pollination to drive step change in innovation: “between experts in different disciplines, researchers and technologists, entrepreneurs and financiers, private and public sectors. The challenge for the public sector, like many large organisations, is that its strong silo organisational structure often makes collaboration difficult in practice. Since collaboration, by definition, requires willing, the challenge is to create an approach such that people are not mandated to work together but want to. When running the Cabinet Office Policy School offsite at Wayra’s creative London headquarters rather than in Whitehall, SKYrooms’ founder observed how diverse teams formed more quickly and delivered more innovative proposals having worked in a more creative environment. In micro, this was an example of diverse teams collaborating better and getting a better result. SKYrooms brings these ideas together. The aim is to:
1. Create an exceptional space for innovation at the heart of government, that is so compelling, people would not need to be mandated to come, they would want to.
2. Scale the idea so different organisations can create their own SKYrooms to build an innovation culture and share each others’ SKYrooms as an offsite facility at no cost.
3. Enable a network of spaces across sector boundaries, to build trust and understanding and extend the reach of open innovation in HM Government.
Specifically for each SKYroom, the aim is to be:
1. Easily rearranged to be used in different ways, to get maximum value from one location (i.e. to host international delegations, workshops or innovation networking seminars)
2. Equipped with the materials needed to work in new ways
3. A signal of the organisation’s commitment to innovation, changing the permissions and encouraging different behaviours
SKYrooms has been developed in partnership with IDEO, the innovation consultancy, workspace innovation expert Kursty Groves and the Royal College of Art. The beneficiaries of SKYrooms SKYrooms can be used by anyone in the organisation for any policy issue. The rooms are designed as a blank canvas, with resources provided for the occupants to use as they see best. Based on Stanford’s d.school model, this makes the space very versatile and this year, the room has been used for:
• Workshops with other organisations
• Executive Board meetings
• Co-working days with innovators across government
• Hosting international visitors
• Staff networks - Diversity network, Disability and Inclusion network
• Partnership with public: private sector leadership programme Current programme status
The first SKYroom is in the HM Treasury building overlooking Big Ben and was launched by the Chief Executive of the Civil Service to mark the Centenary of the Cabinet Office. Learning from this prototype, Ministry of Justice, the leading early adopters, launch their SKYroom this autumn. SKYrooms are presently in discussion with 18 other organisations interested in becoming part of a wider SKYroom innovation network.
Looking forwards, the programme’s priorities are:
1. Establish SKYrooms in 5 sectors by December 2017 to prototype the network
2. Develop an online presence to connect programmes across sites
3. Write summary products to support the scaling
4. Formalise light-touch governance.
What Makes Your Project Innovative?
SKYrooms is unique in developing iconic spaces as the prompt to convene, equip and inspire people to innovate. By seeking out outstanding locations with impressive architecture, SKYrooms leverages spaces with great value but minimal cost and that are within the gift of the government estate. Influencing behaviour through design rather than guidance SKYrooms uses design cues to guide behaviours rather than written instructions. A network of innovation spaces Rather than “an innovation room”, SKYrooms is unique in creating a network of spaces.
The core model draws on reciprocity of hosting other organisations or being invited by them in an inspiring space enables the cross-pollination of ideas across disciplines and sectors. Actively collaborating across sectors Rather than just engaging across central government, SKYrooms is actively engaging across sectors and internationally. The aim is that, by working together, organisations will understand each other better, can collaborate and share best practice better. Most importantly, the trust forged through relationships can overcome silos and underpin a culture of openness in policy-making. Leveraging government assets in a new way SKYrooms has leveraged the asset of the government estate in a new way - principally by transforming exceptional spaces as sites and brokering reciprocity between sites, so each can use the other’s SKYroom sites to save on awayday costs. New in implementation Delivered with no direct implementation budget With no direct implementation budget, funding came from partnering with relevant policy teams; and with 1 full time employee, the delivery team was drawn from contributions from people at every level, often in their discretionary time. Grassroots innovation, delivered and scaling In the hierarchy of government, SKYrooms is unusual as it is a grassroots innovation, pitched to the Cabinet Office Accelerator with no formal mandate. It is the first to have launched and is a rare example of grassroots innovation being scaled in the public sector.
What is the current status of your innovation?
In 2014, Rupert discussed his proposal for an innovation space in the tower room with Dr Andrea Siodmok, who had recently joined to lead Policy Lab. Despite much support there was no obvious mechanism to implement the proposal. In Autumn 2015, Rupert’s thinking was cemented by his Cambridge Policy Fellowship, where his main findings were:
• That, if entrepreneurialism is the pursuit of opportunity beyond resources controlled, the core principles could be applied in the public sector
• That innovation flourishes in an ecosystem
• That new (inherently risky) initiatives are best developed in a safe environment and then scaled
• That though the focus is typically on product innovation, systems innovation has a more profound reach across the organisation.
The implementation mechanism came when Chief Executive of the Civil Service launched the Cabinet Office Accelerator programme in December 2015. Having passed the Accelerator first round and with Dr Siodmok as mentor, Rupert brokered partnerships with IDEO and Professor Kursty Groves and developed the proposal secured the unanimous support of the Accelerator panel. Joining Policy Lab, Rupert developed the proposal working closely with the Government Property Unit Scoping sites and securing agreement to use the HM Treasury Tower Room. Through visiting other sites, discussions with experts and a workshop with IDEO and Professor Groves, Rupert developed the key components for the programme and worked with the HM Treasury estates team to make this happen. This was a significant point in the process as the programme moved from idea to implementation with the constraints this brought, in terms of resource, time and regulation.
Rupert engaged different teams from across government - from the CO IT team to provide the cutting edge equipment written about in the Civil Service Workforce Plan, to the Government Art Collection who loaned Mobile Reflector, to the Government Property Unit whose furniture repurposing scheme secured six thousand pounds worth of tables for £400 - the cost of a van to collect them from Manchester!
The Chief Executive of the Civil Service agreed to launch SKYroom to mark the centenary of the Cabinet Office. This was a vital element as it provided new legitimacy, urgency and a concrete deadline for different teams to work towards. Following a successful launch, SKYrooms secured the support of senior champions (the video for which is on vimeo.com/skyrooms). The main next steps were:
• Smoothing the entire process so the user experience was very positive long before people got near the room
• Managing the transition of the space, anticipating and preventing users frustration about inefficiency and disruption
• Inviting key influencers to use the space, both to test it and to legitimise it.
If a highly respected team enjoyed working in a creative space, it was much more difficult for the naysayers to dismiss it. Seeking out feedback has been fundamental in refining SKYrooms, whether through talking to people about their experience or gathering data objectively through the online feedback form developed in partnership with the Cabinet Office Analysis and Insight Team. At the same time, discussions with potential partners have both reinforced the value of collaboration and refined elements of how the space can be most effective and have greatest impact. The programme’s immediate priorities are to test the prototype network across sectors as a precursor to scaling. Ahead of the lessons learned are being published in a series of products this autumn, the key findings were presented as part of the London Design Festival, of which SKYrooms is an official partner.
Collaborations & Partnerships
Policy Fellowship findings at Cambridge University brought academic insight, expertise and a broad range of perspectives. A previous partnership with Wayra for the Cabinet Office Policy School had demonstrated the value of working with external experts across sectors. IDEO helped ground the idea in practicality. Professor Kursty Groves brought specialist insight not just about the physical space but about the cultural processes needed to make them flourish. The Royal College of Art added a further level of rigour and support for the work which gave even greater credibility when presenting to senior stakeholders. Within government, SKYrooms worked closely with the Government Property Unit, to align the programme with their policy, draw on their expertise and secure indirect funding as an exemplar project. The team also worked with HM Treasury since the prototype room - chosen for its architecture, natural light and iconic views - was in their building.
Users, Stakeholders & Beneficiaries
From the outset, SKYrooms engaged trusted critics to identify the idea’s viability, probe the obvious barriers early and see how immovable they were. In the development phase, a user workshop generated very insightful feedback after using the space in situ - from branding, influencing behaviours by layout and moving from a space to a service. User feedback remains vital. SKYrooms continues to track this this through online user feedback and making time to talk to the people who have used the room. The patronage of the Chief Executive was the fundamental lever in mobilising teams across organisations to contribute pro bono. HM Treasury's partnership was fundamental in granting permission for SKYrooms to use the site for the prototype. Engaging the Chief Operating Office, the Ministry of Justice joining as the lead early adopter validated the reciprocal sharing concept.
Results, Outcomes & Impacts
Over 1400 people from 14 organisations used SKYroom between April and August 2017. Based on an online feedback survey of 109 people, 94% of people preferred working in SKYroom. When asked the extent to which SKYroom enabled a significant step forward in their work, 57% said agreed strongly or very strongly, of which 15% agreed very strongly. Internationally, SKYroom has hosted meetings from 11 countries including Japan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Finland, Australia and the United States. Bridging sectors, SKYroom has hosted meetings with organisations including:
• Government Office for Science
• Cambridge University’s Centre for Science and Policy
• Government Digital Service
• Islington Borough Council
• UK Export Finance
Looking to scale, the next SKYroom launches this autumn and the SKYroom team are in partnership discussions with 15 other organisations.
Challenges and Failures
The challenges SKYrooms faced were typically not about the idea so much as the implementation. The main recurring issue was an implementation request not falling within existing corporate processes. This is perhaps unsurprising since the innovation, by definition, is new. However, the decision to proceed relies heavily on the judgement and discretion of decision maker who often lacks the mandate for flexibility. Invariably, there is a legitimate way of circumventing the problem, but this added time and the combined effect of these different delays drained momentum and strained the programme’s tight resources. The challenges have been responded to by:
• Working constructively with the relevant teams, understanding their constraints and winning their trust
• Keeping a clear perspective what is immovable and what can flex
• Patient determination: waiting, seeing the opportunity for change when it arises and being ready to action it when it does.
Conditions for Success
The core concept is very simple. It needs:
• An exceptional space
• A small team with drive, vision and licence to operate - with access to a wider network of volunteers
• Buy-in from facilities management
• A senior champion
• A small budget SKYrooms are developing summary resources to address the essential nuances to make the space work.
The potential to scale is significant and SKYrooms has been designed as such. SKYrooms addresses an issue that is common to many big organisations: building an innovation culture, increasing open innovation, overcoming silos and navigating internal systems. It is also to replicate: the estate is typically within the organisation’s gift, costs are negligible and it is a compelling project to champion because of the positive engagement it creates. Professor Jeremy Myerson from the Royal College of Art said: “SKYroom is an innovation from the Cabinet Office that creates a space away from the day-to-day business of government to allow senior people to think differently, hatch and develop new ideas. It’s a great concept that has been well executed and has scope for scaling up across the government and public sector.”
The lesson learned in the prototyping phase was about the need for structured iteration. Whilst an iterative approach appeals to the entrepreneur, the implementation team need clear, simple instructions that they could factor into their programme of works. Working across disciplines, whilst it’s easy to redraft an idea, it is much more difficult to change the implementation once it is underway. Learning from this, future roll out will be based around a programme of fortnightly rolling modules. This gives the entrepreneur flexibility to change and refine, and provides the facilities teams a way to plan and structure the changes efficiently. These findings will be captured in the supporting scaling documents, so partner organisations can avoid this.
Few organisations would allow someone to take an idea and run with it. I am immensely grateful to the Cabinet Office and its Accelerator programme - championed by John Manzoni (Chief Executive of the Civil Service) - for enabling me to do. I would particularly like to thank Dr Andrea Siodmok who leads the UK Policy Lab and SKYrooms' expert partners - Andrea Kershaw at IDEO, Kursty Groves, and Jeremy Myerson at the Royal College of Art. Their expertise has been invaluable. Rupert Cryer