Future Forward is a six-month innovation process designed to explore and experiment with bolder ideas for resource generation. You can read more about how and why it was conceived here, and who we are over here.
When we started this work, we shared an understanding that there is a real, systemic issue with the way our greatest, most innovative movement organizations are resourced. We also shared a hope that the growing trend towards various innovation and experimentation techniques could be of service to this very real challenge.
What we didn’t share was an understanding of what we really mean when we say we need to innovate, explore, and experiment. There are so many frameworks and mental models flying around (open innovation, innovation challenges, lean-startup, human-centered design, just to name a few), trying to shape our particular innovation challenge felt like a bunch of people speaking different languages trying to have a dinner conversation.
While many of these frameworks may use different words, there is overlap among key principles. This wonderful toolkit from the team over at Accelerate Change outlines these different frameworks quite clearly, and is great foundational reading. One particular distinction and definition I’d like to borrow for our work is between innovation and experimentation. In it, they state:
Innovation = a new, more effective intervention for social change
Experimentation = a structured process for driving learning and innovation.
We are embarking on an innovation challenge, because we want to find new, more effective interventions for resourcing Forward Together’s remarkable work. We will utilize an experimentation process to help uncover, test, and learn about these new ideas.
What framework and language we use—whether Lean Startup or human-centered design or one of many others—to help understand the experimentation process is of less significance to me. What matters is the scientific heart of these frameworks: a commitment to clearly define the challenge at hand, clearly articulate a hypothesis about how to tackle that challenge, and rapidly testing that hypothesis to get feedback and learn more about the challenge and potential solutions as quickly as possible. Stated differently for those who prefer less scientific language: Clear goals (find ways to overcome said challenge, learn something new about x), Clear assumptions about how to achieve those goals (a hypothesis, an idea, etc.), and a process to test those assumptions rapidly, collecting feedback to see how much closer we’ve moved to our goal.
I myself have never been much into science, but I have always been into science fiction, and it’s this passion that led me to Neil Degrasse Tyson’s reboot of Cosmos. Watching Cosmos this past year reminded me of what is so truly remarkable about the scientific process. Through a shared framework for testing and learning about new ideas, and a commitment to sharing those results with the commons to build on each other’s discoveries, science has repeatedly achieved the previously unimagined. I watch Star Trek completely unable to fathom how we could get from point A (dysfunctional earth) to point B (remarkable space federation), yet confident that the scientific method is an approach that could really get us there. Yes, you heard me right. I believe we will have a space federation by 2161.
In the opening episode of Cosmos, Neil Degrasse Tyson shares the “rules for scientific discovery that help us unlock reality beyond our imagining.” They are pretty straightforward.
- Test ideas by experiment and observation.
- Build on those ideas that pass the test, reject the ones that fail.
- Follow the evidence wherever it leads.
- Question everything.
I can’t imagine right now what a truly sustainable Forward Together resourcing model will look like. But I do believe that if we bring together wonderful folks to generate solid ideas, build on those ideas that pass the test, are truly open to unexpected surprises, and willing to question all of our assumptions, we will find a better path. I’m excited to officially kick-off this journey together on May 18.