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Desk to District: expanding horizons in collaborative innovation

How can organisations connect their workplaces to an ecosystem of innovation? A new report by International Quarter London in partnership with the WORKTECH Academy looks at three stages of collaborative innovation from workspace to district scale

Many large organisations today are caught in an innovation dilemma: they know they must innovate to succeed, but struggle to find the right way to make it happen.

In recent years there has been a physical shift in workspace design to host internal innovation teams and provide collaborative spaces to spark new ways of thinking. But how can companies become more permeable to the wider innovation community and reap the benefits of being a player in collaborative innovation?

In its simplest form, collaborative innovation is a process in which multiple players both inside and outside an organisation contribute towards the development of new products, services and business solutions, and openly share what they develop. Sometimes called open innovation, it is increasingly viewed as a way for large businesses to link their scale and resources with the ideas and agility of start-ups and specialists.

‘Space as a catalyst for new solutions…’

A new report from International Quarter London (IQL) in partnership with the WORKTECH Academy, From Desk to District, looks at how three typologies of space can influence different types of collaborative innovation. From the confines of an organisation’s physical infrastructure to the permeability of a district-wide ecosystem, the report defines the dynamics of collaborative innovation and how organisations can use space as a catalyst for new ideas and solutions. It also draws on existing case studies in each spatial typology of collaborative innovation to illustrate the potential impact to an organisation’s innovation process.

Innovation Lab

The ‘Innovation Lab’ is the most common typology of space identified in the report. It refers to a dedicated internal space within the confines of an organisation’s walls. This space is contained, controlled and appeals to the more security-sensitive companies, but it is a firm first step towards demonstrating an organisation’s commitment to innovation. Companies can invite external partners such as end-users and customers into their innovation labs for co-creation activities. This model has been adopted by IKEA, for example, which has created Space 10 in Copenhagen – a ‘future-living lab’ which aims to find innovative solutions for a more sustainable way of living in collaboration with a network of forward-thinking partners.

Shared Hub

The ‘Shared Hub’ is more permeable than the innovation lab but it is still an environment with privileged access. It is a corporate-provided incubator which invites external innovators inside an organisation. It is the next step into the innovation ecosystem as organisations are actively expanding their network beyond the company. This model has been particularly popular within the financial sector, with many banks looking to innovate quickly in the face of rapid fintech developments. Royal Bank of Scotland, for example, has partnered with start-up facilitator Rocketspace to create a new RBS innovation community in London.

Knowledge Agora

The third typology outlined in the report is the ‘Knowledge Agora’, which encompasses the wider collaborative innovation ecosystem on a district and city scale. It takes its name from agora, the Ancient Greek term for an open marketplace in the city, but is reinvented as an innovation district for the 21st century knowledge economy which responds to occupier demand to materialise collaborative innovation networks.

Within this hinterland, the organisational workplace is part of a wide array of innovation-ready services and settings, with retail and hospitality provision, transport links, academic and cultural elements all part of the mix.

This is an arena in which corporates, universities, start-ups, NGOs and end users can come together to collectively share ideas in an open environment. As a model for collaborative innovation, it is the most permeable in character and far-reaching in potential of the three typologies.

The report concludes with a look at International Quarter London as an exemplar of an emerging innovation district ecosystem in London.

WORKTECH Academy Director Jeremy Myerson, who co-authored the report, comments: ‘Around the world, we are seeing innovative organisations widen their search when they are looking to relocate. They are focusing not just on the quality of the office building but on the collaborative connections available in the wider neighbourhood. Innovation districts are on the rise and our report with IQL captures that trajectory with three models that plot a line from collaborative innovation contained within the workplace to permeable to the city.’

Read the full From Desk to District report here