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September 12, 2005

What innovation sounds like

"Quiet in class!". Silent attention to Teacher's every word was the required mode of interaction when I was at school. Only speak when spoken to. Teachers themselves were judged by the quietness of their workspace; a noisy classroom meant they were not in sufficient control. All that seems to be changing. Prowling school inspectors now like to hear the babble of group interaction in a classroom. I learned this at a fascinating Demos workshop in London last week. Entitled Open Secrets, the workshop brought toghether 50-odd senior managers from the forefront of public sector innovation in contexts ranging from schools and hospitals to the police. The fact that we met in a delightful primary school in south London, and not in some grim seminar room, added to an upbeat atmosphere. The UK is at a interesting juncture right now. After years of intense research, reflection, and a mountain of policy documents, a lot of people now have a good idea of how public services might be organised differently. But there's a palpable feeling now that insight and reports are the beginning, not the end, of the innovation process. Everyone is looking for ways to try things out in real situations.

Posted by John Thackara at September 12, 2005 08:28 AM


I wasn't able to get to the seminar but I was interested in the above comment. People may "have a good idea of how public services might be organised differently" without knowing how to organise them better. The key debate is between the transformational once-in-a-lifetime-opportunity revolutionary view and the path of evolution and 'reform by small steps'. In this country currently we seem to have a penchant for the former. Careers are tied up in it. But its relative effectiveness is dubious to say the least.

Posted by: Prof Ron Glatter at September 14, 2005 07:34 PM

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