[white paper] What does it mean to Work Open in Hive NYC? New Hive community whitepaper

Working Open Whitepaper front page imageIn the summer of 2014, a group of Hive NYC members and stakeholders came together to think, talk and design around the idea of ‘working open’ in the Hive. The context was the Network that Learns design charrette. Led by Hive Research Lab, we created this two day sprint as a space to address key knowledge management issues that were brought up State of the Hive meeting in March 2014. Members had voiced needs around making it easier to locate expertise in the network, continually capture best practices from ongoing projects, and figure out how the network could be a context for accumulating collective wisdom. In our ongoing work studying innovation in a ‘networked’ context, we’ve see how just such issues can be critical in supporting organizations to effectively leverage Hive as they dive into new areas of work and strengthen existing ones, and so the charrette acted as a space where we could collectively think them through.

We used the idea of ‘working open’ during the charrette as somewhat of a grounding theme that cut across these knowledge management issues. As a way of working that values collaboration, failing early and often, ongoing storytelling, community building and an experimental and flexible spirit, ‘working open’ felt like it might have something to offer these issues that were raised at the State of the Hive. If understood and supported in a way that speaks to the Hive community’s distinct context, working open could be considered a mode of engagement that allows Hive members to progress both individually and collectively.

The white paper we’re sharing now [pdf] is the result of those discussions, and aims to synthesize many views about what constitutes ‘working open’, what it looks like in practice, what tensions are involved and what this all might mean for the Hive NYC community. Drawing on the voices of participating Hive members, as well as our field research in Hive NYC, the white paper offers somewhat of a vision for collective organizational learning within the network. We’d love to hear what you think, and how you could see these ideas applying to the way you do your everyday work.

[brief] Networked Innovation Interim Brief #3 – How does a learning network spread and scale innovations?

spread widelyHow to spread and scale work coming out of Hive NYC has always been a central question for the network. We’ve regularly referenced [pdf] how Mark Surman, CEO of the Mozilla Foundation, early on envisioned Hives as “both R&D and retail”; simultaneously incubators for new approaches to learning as well as a means through which those innovations might travel. More recently, Cynthia Coburn has been writing [pdf] and speaking with the network about how we might begin to conceptualize these issues of spread and scale in a digital age. While the focus of our Networked Innovation research has generally been on the practices associated with early stage innovation design, Hive Research Lab naturally comes across the strategies and practices that member organizations utilize to spread and scale the innovations they design, and in this brief aims to share some of what we’ve seen in our fieldwork in that area. Through naming the approaches we’ve seen, our hope is that the network, as a collective, might better think about how it might accomplish more together than any individual organization might accomplish alone.

NI Brief 3 Cover FinalIn this interim brief [pdf], which we excerpt below and can be downloaded by clicking the image to the left, we give a very brief overview of some of Cynthia Coburn’s framework on spread and scale, then use to bulk of the brief to describe some of what we’ve seen in Hive both in terms of what’s spreading as well as strategies organizations employ to spread work, and finally close with some questions that organizations might ask themselves as they consider these issues internally.

From the brief:

Strategies for Achieving Scale by Hive Member Organizations

As we’ve researched Hive NYC, we’ve come to see a number of distinct strategies that organizations take to spreading their work. In each, different forms of innovations are being spread, different target groups are envisioned (sometimes youth directly, sometimes educators broadly, sometimes specific types of “adopter” organizations, etc.), and different levels and types of capacity are needed to pull off the approach. The following typology is by no means exhaustive, but covers many of the approaches we’ve encountered.

  1. “Physical” Footprint Expansion – this strategy involves increasing the number of physical sites where an organization’s youth-facing programs or pedagogies are implemented. This approach can be achieved through internal growth of an organization in terms of the number of front-line educators it employs, and sites where it implements its work. This strategy often involves intensive partnership and training of “adopter” organizations that implement the model or curricula that was developed by a “base” organization. Such a strategy might also involve the development of online platforms that support multi-site implementation.
  2. “Virtual” Footprint Expansion – in this strategy, we refer specifically to online educational experiences that are aimed directly at young people. Educational video games, online communities, any type of targeted online “content” meant for uptake by youth can be put under this umbrella. This approach is distinct in that it likely means that an organization increasingly develops capacity in areas such as web development, interactive content development, digital design and online community management.
  3. Open Education Resources (OER) Distribution – while it’s an older term, “Open Educational Resources” well describes the kinds of things that many organizations aim to spread for usage by other individual educators or organizations. Well structured curricula, “teaching kits”, digital design tools or games that can be incorporated into an existing curricula, activity templates or even educational design principles all might be considered under this umbrella.
  4. Face-to-Face Professional Development and Consulting PD and consulting are well established approaches taken by specialist educational organizations to capitalize on and spread their distinct capacities and resources. Professional development events often focus on more generalizable innovation forms so as to be more widely applicable and attended by educators from a variety of contexts. PD offerings might combine sharing pedagogical approaches and design principles, with exposing trainees to existing knowledge channels relating to a particular area. Consulting, naturally, is often more intensive and tailored to the needs of a client organization.
  5. Thought Leadership – many Hive organizations actively play a role contributing to and even shaping the discourse within various communities and fields as “thought leaders” that are looked to around particular areas of expertise. Such an approach might leverage public speaking in a range of venues such as conferences as well as regular writing and publication whether it be through white papers, on widely read blogs or in various media outlets. A thought leadership approach leverages some core expertise with facility at communication and framing in order to spread ideas and practices.
  6. Working Open – We’re hesitant to position working open simply as a strategy for spreading innovation, as in many ways it can be seen as a particular configuration of innovation practices (coming from the open source software movement) that values iterative co-development of innovations with a range of stakeholders in a transparent way. At the same time, this approach, which values cultivating community during the design process, could be seen as a strategy that simultaneously develops and spreads innovation.

From an ecosystem perspective, organizations can of course play different roles in relation to these strategies. Some might be looking for other organizations to implement programs developed in-house, others might be looking for online distribution partners to help spread resources they’re developing, and some might even help others to build capacity towards spread and scale itself, as in cases where an organization with greater curriculum development capacity assists another organization to ready an program from broader uptake. One of the advantages of coming at these issues from a “networked” perspective is that it can allow organizations to ask questions about what role they do or want to play in the larger eco-system, as well as how existing actors in the ecosystem can play roles that allow their own organizations to “punch above their weight”, so to speak.

Five questions Hive organizations can ask about spread and scale

As organizations wrestle with these issues, there are a number of basic questions they can ask and bring into internal strategy conversations regarding spread and scale:

  1. What form(s) of innovation I am trying to spread?
  2. What conception(s) of scale am I aiming to achieve and how do they impact my strategy? Does my organization envision adoption, replication, adaptation, reinvention or some combination thereof as being applicable to spreading its work?
  3. What changes need to be made to the innovation I’m trying to spread, the context I’m trying to spread to or through, and to my own organization in order to make spread viable?
  4. How am I going to learn from past attempts at spreading work, both from my own organization as well as others, as I engage in a scaling strategy? How am I going to learn while I’m engaging in a current or future strategy so that course corrections can be made along the way?
  5. What role(s) can I and do I want to play in the larger Hive ecosystem in terms of spread and scale issues? What are roles I can see other organizations in the ecosystem playing in relation to my own strategy for scale?

As a network, we know that there’s much more that can be done together than alone when it comes to achieving impact. Thinking together about how different organizations might leverage their strengths through strategic partnership is ultimately only the first step – just as we need to prototype, test and refine innovations themselves, we also need to take an experimental approach to achieving scale. Each of the strategies above must leverage distinctive best practices that have been developed both within and outside of the education sector. At the same time, such strategies can only be well achieved in Hive if they’re approached from the same perspective of collective learning and careful observation that’s taken by the network in other areas of its work. Scale brings new challenges, and therefore new things to be learned and shared across the network. Success will likely only be found if Hive continues to be “a network that learns” when it comes to efforts to spread and scale.


[brief] Networked Innovation Interim Brief #2 – Innovation Practices and Hive NYC

As many of you following our work know, HRL has been working hard to put together a series of interim NI Brief 2 Cover Finalbriefs that allow us to make more transparent the research we’re doing within Hive NYC. We’ve released two so far, related to our Networked Innovation research strand, and another on our Youth Trajectories strand. Building on the first brief on innovation, which focused on innovations as “things” or products, this second brief on the subject moves begin conceptualizing innovation as a process, or, more precisely, as a set of practices that organizations engage in. We originally wrote about these practices here on the blog, and in the brief we refine our original framework, extended its discussion, and, most importantly, wrote up examples from the fieldwork we’ve conducted within Hive that give life to these practices. A big goal for us was to go from the theoretical ideas about innovation down to the practical level of what innovation looks like on the ground in Hive NYC. We hope you’ll read the whole thing, but as a teaser, here’s an excerpt from the introduction:

Hive NYC has as its tagline “explore+create+share”. It’s a sentiment that expresses many of the core principles the community holds in terms of its pedagogy – one in which youth explore interests and identities, engage in creation, production and expression, and then share this work in authentic contexts. But explore/create/share can also be seen as a loose framework for how those in Hive NYC, as educators, designers and activists, engage in the practices of innovation. It is these practices of innovation we focus on in this brief.

If course, if you have thoughts, feedback or questions, please don’t hesitate to be in touch. Part of our work in these briefs is testing the waters to feel out what has utility for Hive members in their own organizations, so any and all thoughts are welcome.

[brief] Networked Innovation Interim Brief #1 – Innovations and Hive NYC

Over the course of the coming weeks, Hive Research Lab will be releasing a series of interim briefs, short form writing based on early observations and conceptualizations that are designed to provide the Hive NYC community with ongoing frameworks, findings and recommendations related to the Lab’s two research areas: supporting youth trajectories and pathways, and developing the Hive as a context for networked innovation. The briefs are part of a broader effort to connect current research and emerging findings to issues of practical importance to the Hive NYC community in order to improve network activity. Recommendations are preliminary and based either on existing literature or observations of practice within the network, and we hope that they can serve to spark conversations both within member organizations as well as across the network.

Hive Research Lab - Networked Innovation Interim Brief #1 - Innovations & Hive NYC - February 2014 cover imageOur first brief, which speaks to our Networked Innovation research strand, builds off of earlier work we’ve done to think about what counts as an innovation, but in it we take more of the perspective of what this question might mean for Hive members, as opposed to for our work as researchers. We include a set of “dimensions” that can be considered vis-a-vis a given innovation, consider how these dimensions might have import in the Hive NYC context, and provide a snapshot of things that might be considered innovations, broadly speaking, within Hive NYC.

Of course, thoughts and questions are welcome! Link to the brief is here.

What are the “practices” of innovation?

Previously we’ve written about how we define the “stuff” that might be considered innovations within the Hive – ideas, technologies, program models, and design principles are all the “things” or “nouns” that are the results of other activities. But what about the activities that bring these innovations about? These are what I refer to as  innovation practices. These practices operate on the level of verbs – they’re not things, but rather actions, activities, and processes. They make up the evolution or life-cycle of innovations, from brainstorming and iteration to implementation and scaling. Innovation practices are often so invisible and taken for granted that we thought it might be useful to name and offer some definitions here on the blog. Part of the idea in doing so is to let people in on the process we’re going through to theorize innovation in the Hive, but another goal is to give language to Hive members so that they might better recognize and call out things they do every day, activities that are central to how Hive works together as a network.

Sprout bulb in interative cycle

To offer a framework, we’ll draw on the work of James March, a scholar of organizational learning who famously offered [pdf] that the process of innovation can be broken up into two primary sets of activities – the work of exploration, and the work of exploitation. According to March, exploration “… includes things captured by terms such as search, variation, risk taking, experimentation, play, flexibility, discovery, innovation”, while exploitation “… includes such things as refinement, choice, production, efficiency, selection, implementation, execution.”

Put another way by the scholar Kwaku Atuahene-Gima, exploration encompasses a set of innovation practices that aim to develop new knowledge (broadly defined – ideas, technologies, program models, design principles, etc.) within a given context, and supports greater departures from current knowledge that exists in that context. And exploitation encompasses a set of innovation practices that aim to hone and extend current knowledge. Exploitation, rather than departing greatly from existing knowledge, hews closely to it in order to further and deepen it. It “exploits”, or makes the most of on an area that’s already familiar.

So what, more precisely, are the actual activities that make up these two areas of innovation? Based on what I’ve seen in Hive, on my own work experience, and on what the literature discusses, I’ve broken down a set of innovation practices I see as belonging in each of these buckets.

Exploration might include the following:

  • Exposure – the act of encountering an innovation or information about an innovation without specifically seeking it out.
  • Search – the act of actively seeking out an innovation or information about an innovation in a directed and intentional manner.
  • Sense-making – the process of coming to understand the nature of an innovation and/or the innovation’s potential relationship to a given actor’s goal(s). Sense-making can be intentionally undertaken as a practice, or more organically occur without specific direction on the part of an actor.
  • Ideation – the practice of intentionally generating ideas for potential innovations that might be further developed by a given actor.
  • Prototyping – the practice of creating early-stage pilots or models of a given innovation for the purposes of gaining information that would further the design.
  • Experimentation – the practice of engaging in early-stage implementation of a prototype within a variety of contexts with the intention of gaining information that would further the design.
  • Refinement – the practice of using information gained through prototyping and experimentation processes in order to change central aspects of an innovation’s design.
  • Iteration – the practice of repetitively engaging in cycles of prototyping, experimentation and refinement for the purposes of systematically improving an innovation. 
  • Recontextualization – the practice of adapting a given innovation to a particular context to better meet the needs and priorities of said context.
  • Reinvention – the practice of re-conceptualizing a given innovation such that it takes on a substantively distinct new form.

Obviously, many of these practices are overlapping or encompass one another. For instance, “iteration” is a sort of meta-practice that subsumes prototyping, experimentation and refinement. The processes of “recontextualization” and “reinvention” imply that exposure or search must have occured, as well as some sort of sense-making. Each of these practices though offers a distinct lens into the larger process of exploration.

Exploitation, on the hand, includes a very different set of practices such as:

  • Production – the creation, manufacturing or design of a given innovation at a degree of refinement and scale such that it is ready to be implemented in its intended context of use.
  • Implementation – the execution and/or release of a given innovation within its context of intended use.
  • Establishing Efficiencies – refinement to non-core aspects of an innovation or the processes surrounding the production or implementation of an innovation for the purposes of making its continued production or implementation less resource intensive.
  • Institutionalization – the development of increased capacity, knowledge and expertise vis-a-vis a given innovation within an organization or system.

We could possibly leave the story of innovation practices at those two buckets of exploration and exploitation, but as I looked at the Hive and considered the networked nature of innovation that occurs here, two other linked practices seemed to be important: documentation and circulation, defined below:

  • Circulation – formal or informal sharing of an innovation and/or information relating to an innovation across multiple actors (individuals, organizations, systems). Actors engaged in circulation may or may not be associated with development of the innovation.
  • Documentation – the practice of creating artifacts and reference materials relating to a given innovation to help achieve a variety of functions across the spectrum of innovation practices.

In terms of “networked innovation”, these practices are central to the ways that innovation is captured, spread, and accumulated throughout the network, operating as a sort of connective tissue in terms of innovation. They speak to the process of “diffusion of innovations“, made famous by innovation scholar Everett Rogers.

So what do we make of all this when we think about studying innovation in Hive NYC? In general, part of why we go through the process of developing such layers of theory is so we can get a better sense of what activity is actually going on, and where to focus our energies and attention as researchers. In the context of the Hive, the practices of exploration and circulation seem to be the most relevant. In terms of exploration, the discourse of the network is generally oriented towards experimentation with new ideas, technologies and programs, something encompassed by exploration practices. And in terms of circulation, many Hive-supported activities, including partnerships, meet-ups, learning lab and community calls are heavily oriented towards sharing what people are working on and spreading knowledge across the community. These circulation practices in the network also feed back into such central exploration processes as search, exposure, sensemaking, recontextualization and reinvention. Exploration and circulation practices both inextricably tied to one another in a networked context, and as such are central as we study what Hive is up to.

Where do we go from here then? Two things have emerged for us as critical as we’ve started to conceptualize innovation practices, both of which have emerged from our fieldwork.

The first is that it’s become increasingly clear that the real value here is in understanding the particular ways that organizations string all of these different practices together. If these individual practices are the innovation equivalent of walking, we want to understand and be able to talk about how Hive organizations dance, whether it be on their own, in pairs, or in epic choreographed ensembles (if that makes sense!). This means being able to speak to how the different innovation practices I’ve talked about here are coordinated into larger patterns of organizational behavior and strategy, and how being part of a network intersects with that.

The second thread we want to pull here is about language. A lot of the literature on innovation isn’t really native to the educational world, and some terms (like exploitation, for instance) don’t really resonate with the culture and ethos of the Hive. While such terms might be useful analytically, we’re curious to learn more about how Hive organizations talk about the ways they engage in the activities we described here. Some things we know have become common parlance – prototyping, iteration, playtesting – but we’re sure that there’s a lot of other ways that Hivers talk about how they engage in innovation, and we’re curious to hear from people on this front.

Defining Innovation in the Context of Studying Hive NYC

One of the challenges of studying innovation here in Hive Research Lab is that the word has become so loaded in our discourse. Its ubiquity often Sprout Lightbulbrenders it meaningless, and so as researchers working with this idea we need to be clear on what exactly we’re talking about when we say innovation.

The first thing to say about innovation is that, like many other words, it exists in our language in various forms. For example, take these four ways of using the word in context:

  • “Our organization needs to produce more innovations!” (noun form)
  • “Our organization needs to do more innovation!” (verb form)
  • “The thing that organization made is totally innovative!” (adjective form modifying a noun)
  • “The experimentation that organization does is so innovative!” (adjective form modifying a verb)

So when we say we’re studying innovation, we have to be clear about which form of the word we mean, because that has implications for how and what we track as part of our research process. For the purposes of this post, I’ll focus on the noun form, i.e., the “things” that we might call innovations. (In a future post, I’ll discuss the the verb form, which comprises the actions and processes that lead to those things.)

In reviewing the academic literature, we’ve found five dimensions that are usually referred to in some way when characterizing an “innovation”:

  • “Value Added”/Beneficence of an Innovation – this dimension speaks to the normative qualities of an innovation. Is a given practice/technology/idea “better” than what came before it? This begs the questions of according to whom, and by what measure? Definitions that focus on “value added” imply an evaluation of some sort.
  • Novelty of an Innovation – almost all definitions focus to some degree on whether something might be considered new, though novelty is acknowledged as variable based on context (“absolute” vs “relative” novelty). New to an individual, new to a team, new to a firm, new to a field, etc. can all be considered and specified within a definition of innovation. Also referenced here is “perceived” novelty by a given actor.
  • Form of an Innovation – innovations are often grouped according to some form that they take, such as product innovations, process innovations (which refers usually to innovation processes themselves, eg – a rapid prototyping approach, assembly lines, supply chains, etc.), or organizational model innovations. This can be extended in other ways, delineating various forms like technologies, practices, program models, design principles, etc.
  • Origins of an Innovation – was the innovation internally conceived or externally adopted, or some combination? Obviously, on a micro level, all innovation is some combination, but various ways of operationalizing and measuring could likely determine whether an innovation has an external or internal basis in relation to the unit of analysis (individual, team, organization, field, nation, etc.).
  • Degree of an Innovation – is an innovation a radical departure from existing approaches within a unit of analysis, or an incremental improvement? Again, degree can be contextually determined. Something might be a radical departure from existing practice in one organization, but is considered just an incremental improvement from the level of the field.

In getting to a definition of innovation, each of these dimensions is something we think about, with a general rule of thumb being to ask ourselves the questions “Is that aspect of innovation something that actually matters to us in studying Hive NYC? Does it do work for us in our investigations?”

While I’ll talk more in later post about innovation processes and practices, one emerging hypothesis concerning innovation and Hive NYC is that membership in the network mediates exposure to, circulation of and experimentation with ideas, technologies and practices relating to learning. Because of this hypothesis, we’re looking to operationalize innovation in a way that allows us to identify innovations in order to investigate the nature of that mediation. The focus on the practices/processes of circulation, exposure and experimentation for us imply a need to use a definition that focuses on perceived novelty and, potentially, perceived beneficence (value-add), rather than some sort of “objective” evaluation of novelty or beneficence. This allows for a greater focus on the processes surrounding an innovation, given that it is easier to decide that something is an innovation and then track how it’s treated and related to without having to conduct an extensive evaluation of the internal qualities and/or efficacy of a given innovation by some objective measure.

Based on these considerations, the working definition we’re using here at Hive Research Lab for usage within the context of studying innovation within the Hive is the following: An innovation is an idea, practice, principle, technology, or other mediational object perceived as new and of value by an individual, team, organization, field or other entity.

Given that definition, there are a variety of things that might then be considered innovations in the context of Hive NYC:

  • Learning technologies, some developed outside of the network and then adopted (like MIT’s Scratch) and others developed within member organizations (like The LAMP’s Media Breaker).
  • Disciplinary oriented pedagogical practices, like youth game design, citizen science, youth journalism, etc.
  • Program Models and/or Curricula, like NySci’s C3 citizen science work, or Global Kids’ NYC Haunts series of programs.
  • Design principles, like creating learning environments that are interest-driven, or production centered.

The key here is that according to the definition we’re using, none of the above are innovations by default – it’s always contextual. Does a given organization or individual we’re looking at see one of these are novel and of value? Because we’re looking at a network where there’s lots of experimentation with and circulation of ideas, we wanted to make sure that we could focus on the contextual nature of innovations for different actors, and see how the network intersects with those.

We’ll post soon on innovation processes and practices, which we see as a central part of understanding how Hive NYC operates.