An innovation scale


My last post was about a more honest approach to degrees of innovation in public service reform, and so about what it ultimately can deliver and achieve.

In this post I’m sharing some initial thoughts about some sort of innovation scale, particularly in the context of public service reform [1 – important footnote: please read!].

Why a scale?

I think it’s useful to know the degree to which something is innovative or whether it is, for example, something that actually replicates practice in another area; or is something that is supposed to be done anyway; or perhaps something using a different mechanism to what is found in other places.

In ascertaining the extent to which something is innovative, it helps us to identify the approaches, tools and techniques that might be useful to take the innovation from its current “degree” to the next, higher “degree”.

For example (and using more familiar language from the literature on change management) one way of increasing the degree of innovation is “geographical transfer”: if we know that something already exists in one area but want to introduce it to a new geographical area, there are certain things we can do that are more likely to make that transfer a success. Another way of increasing the degree of innovation is by “scaling up”: taking something that already exists in one area but making it bigger is likely to require different actions.

By differentiating between the degrees of innovation we can achieve three things: (1) a more honest appraisal of what the “innovation” is; (2) the extent to which the “innovation” might achieve change; and (3) an indication of the practical things needed to increase the chances of that “innovation” being successful.

The innovation scale

Particularly for public service reform, it feels to me an “innovation scale” needs three dimensions:

Innovation Scale

Absolute Zero: The (0,0,0) point would be something truly new, original and innovative: it simply wouldn’t have existed before.

Scale: The Scale (x) axis captures the extent to which the innovation has achieved scale. The nature of the scale could vary depending on the nature of the innovation. For example, it could be numbers of people or the geographic coverage of something.

Known: The Known (y) axis captures the extent to which relevant audiences/people are aware of or know the innovation exists. Who the audiences are would probably need to be interpreted in the context of the innovation and what it seeks to do.

Sector: The Sector (z) axis captures the extent to which the innovation has passed between different sectors of public services, e.g. the extent to which something that exists in social care has been adopted in health, education or employment.

This scale feels like it gives a good enough framework to be able to estimate different degrees of innovation. Broadly, the closer something is to the (0,0,0) point (i.e. the bottom left-hand back corner in the cube the graph creates) the more innovative it is. The further it moves within the cube to the top right-hand front corner the less innovative it is.

In the next post, I’ll apply this innovation scale to some examples. In the meantime, any thoughts you have on this – especially including references to other frameworks relating to innovation that already exist and no doubt are much better! – are very welcome.


[1] – From the start it’s important to be clear, and with a finely-honed sense of irony, that it’s entirely possible that something like this has been developed before. In a by-no-means comprehensive look at various other posts and reports on this topic I haven’t found anything that quite conveys what I was looking for. The closest is probably Marty Neumeier’s Originality Scale. Whilst this post therefore shares my own thoughts, I’d be very keen to hear from people about other, probably far better versions of an “Innovation Scale” or equivalent.

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Man of letters & numbers; also occasionally of action. Husband to NTW. Dad of three. Friendly geek.

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