Do you understand innovation?


In this post management consultant and innovation professor, Michael Coates, guides us through the fundamentals of innovation in the VCSE sector.

When I first started running innovation workshops aimed at the VCSE sector, I would launch the sessions saying that many VCSE organisations have remained static and not innovated. 

This caused some considerable debate, with many saying that the sector is very innovative, and had they not innovated they would have closed down. While in some case this is correct, in many others, they had “changed” and change is not necessarily the same as “innovated”.

Partly this comes about due to confusion over what innovation is and what it is not.

“Innovation is the process of creating, capturing and developing new ideas into new ways of working or creating value.”

Think about that for a moment, what value does your organisation create?  Value is not the same as your list of services.  Value is often less tangible and includes things like safety, social contact, or a feeling of making a difference.

Once you understand the value you create you can consider if it is possible to create new value.

Let’s go through some examples.

When the now infamous Lance Armstrong created a cancer charity, they were the first to use rubber wrist bands to promote their message and generate income. Now many organisations do the same. Yet they did not invent the wrist band, and they were not the first to add a message or brand image to something that people wear.  What they created was new value

Now people could advertise to others something that was important to them, they could feel part of a movement and as the bands lasted so long, they also added value in terms of regular advertising. Compared to the sticker that would be placed on your jacket if you donated in the street, this was a whole different method of rewarding support.

Innovation is not all about products

The VCSE sector has been slow in some cases to innovate partly because they assume it is all about products, whereas innovation applies just as much to services (think Uber) and work processes (think about how you get your car tax). Uber did not invent a means of transporting people, they took existing processes, (drivers, phone app, GPS, online payment, online reviews) and created new value from them. The vehicle licensing people in Swansea did not invent online forms, online payment, monthly direct debits or license plate recognition, they just saw a means of using them to web enable a manual process – before you knew it, the tax disc was history, although I keep all of mine for posterity.

So how could the VCSE sector emulate this? Firstly, look at your back-office operation, do you still fill out manual forms? If so, you could automate those and even better, create workflows, where the form automatically goes from one person to another and is then filed in the correct place. If you think this is complicated, what if I were to tell you that you could learn how to do this in 10 minutes? Don’t believe me? Well take a look at this.

If you would like help with automating your manual admin processes, contact VONNE, as maybe it could be part of the innovation support provided to you.

Do you have staff that visit service users at their home? Do you know where those staff are? Do they have to keep a manual log and then type it up back at the office? Web enabled forms, linked to the location function of a mobile phone, means this is all unnecessary. None of this is new, but for you, it is a means of creating new value. In this case, the value is efficiency, safety, accuracy, and compliance. The time saving will allow you to concentrate more on your core services.

There are many ideas like this, and your staff and volunteers probably have lots of them already, you just need a method of capturing, screening, developing and rolling out those ideas.  That’s where the support on offer from VONNE comes in.

Now, possibly I have made it sound simple to spot such innovations, and to be fair that is part of my job, but with a few easily learned techniques, and being open to thinking differently, it can be learned by anyone. It is not rocket science.

So, was the space rocket an innovation?

Innovation support

To find out more about the support available to your organisation please contact 

About the Author

Michael Coates is Managing Director of Protostar Leadership Development and a visiting Professor in innovation and change.

Michael coaches and trains leaders around the world to be more effective and more innovative.

Connect to him on LinkedIn 

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VONNE is part funded via the Innovation SuperNetwork by the European Regional Development which includes the Catalysing Innovation in North East Clusters project, which is receiving up to £1.24m of funding from the England European Regional Development Fund as part of the European Structural and Investment Funds Growth Programme 2014-2020.

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government is the Managing Authority for European Regional Development Fund. Established by the European Union, the European Regional Development Fund helps local areas stimulate their economic development by investing in projects which will support innovation, businesses, create jobs and local community regenerations. For more information visit