How to summarise 12 years of professional innovation facilitation?

Last couple of years I have received many requests and invitations to different regions and countries all around the world to give a speech. All the events have had a specific topic, but the request to me has been primarily either to present some of our well-known services or to summarise, what is it to facilitate co-creation. Most of these events have taken place in Europe, one or two per month, but some of them have taken place in South-East Asia and North Americas. Since the request has been more to DIMECC than to me as a person, I have focused on the lessons learned by our team during the last 12 years. BUT: How to summarise 12 years in 7 or 30 minutes? What a task!

As an engineer, I normally put the facts first on the table. Since the beginning of 2008: 12 years, 800M€ of co-creation program volume, 200+ projects, 22 final reports, 300+ customers annually, thousands of participating persons, 4 EU trademarks, one merger, one acquisition, match-making event at least once a week. What can you say with these? Not too much. These are facts, which do not tell anything without the context. They are like average without standard deviation.

Our context has always been co-creation between different sizes and kinds of companies, research & educational institutes, and public sector. Professional facilitation of cross-organisational research, product & production development, and innovation work calls for in-depth understanding related to the business and technology challenges of companies, to competence, knowledge, and skills creation mechanisms in every kind of organisations, and to the regulatory framework at hand. Professional facilitation is, like any other private sector job or task, measurable and competitive. The objectives of professional facilitation can be classified in three:

1. By utilising professional facilitation, a customer receives more impact, better results, faster process, or more cost-efficient performance than by trying to solve all the challenges at hand alone. This is the classical part where a customer must decide whether to use an external consultant, or whatever such a help is called, or not.

2. By utilising professional facilitation, a customer would like to look at something that cannot be formulated as a challenge or project yet. This is the classical part where a customer can go almost everywhere outside his/her own organisation and something may be won by meeting interesting thinkers. Sometimes this is called opening minds or business endeavoring. As in the previous case, consultants and many other kinds of organisations can help here.

3. By utilising professional facilitation, a customer ends up with a group of other organisations, which can form an ecosystem to seek for something new or to execute something that is not possible to any of the ecosystem partners alone.

This is the non-classical part of professional facilitation. This calls both for contextual and processual competence, that normally is not present in any organisation that is not half-in and half-out in relation to customers’ businesses. What could be such a half-in and half-out organisation?

Connecting points 1 & 2 is in most of the cases very challenging. Why? Consultants normally base their excellent performance on standard procedures, which do not favour exploration of things that may destroy their current procedures. Hence, it may be, that consultants lock out the most innovative avenues. On the other hand, the ones having excellent capabilities in visioning and opening new avenues, e.g. research institutions, universities and think tanks, very seldom can perform tasks efficiently because their incentive system is from the public sector and not execution oriented. In contrast, they may use a lot of public funding and taxpayers’ money, which may get their services look almost “free” for companies, but hitting companies with slow, non-structured, and over-resourced service ending up to an increased demand to pay taxes.

If the co-existence of points 1 & 2 is challenging, having both and point 3 at the same time is almost impossible. This three-point co-existence does not happen by coincidence or as a pop-up thing, it must be built into the professional facilitation solution with a long-term and strategic perspective. This integration is the responsibility of those who want to gain something with the professional facilitation.

Public Private Partnership model (PPP) is the best available solution for this integration. It was originally created in early 1990’s in Australian infrastructure and construction projects, but it was soon modified and applied to other fields of activities. Finland was one of the first countries in the mid-2000’s to take the PPP-model in large-scale as the framework of national R&D&I policy. The model as such is not important per se, but the benefit of the PPP-model is that we can use private sector incentives and work methods, and public sector competencies and funding at the same time. We can all the time carry out sanity-check for relevance and efficiency with the private investment needed while still maintaining the opportunity to put private money to serve the public benefit through integrating the work to public structures and institutions. By investing public money on top of the private money, we play out the opportunity of non-impactful and inefficient operations. With PPP, professional innovation facilitation helps both the ones using it for their individual needs, and the ones living around the lead innovators. This makes points 1-3 possible at the same time, because we can have the private and public interests served with same efforts. In small, limited, and non-perfect markets this is especially important.

This is my summary of the 12 years. I am eager to widen and deepen my perspectives with the next dozen years. Would you like to follow?

Dr. Harri Kulmala

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