Reflecting on my learning journey: Managing Technological Innovation
Since November I have been studying for an Open University Masters’ level module in Managing Technological Innovation. This sits alongside a module I completed in 2017 in Making Environmental Decisions. Making Environmental Decisions introduced me to a wealth of systems-thinking tools and approaches to stakeholder analysis and gave me new strategies for managing complexity. It also gave me a grounding in some of the legal framework that underpins environmental policy. The core case study was around fracking; a few of the talking heads who appeared in the course material videos are now my colleagues. This second module will enable me to complete a recognised qualification. This module sits within Technology Studies and the majority of the other students were from engineering and manufacturing backgrounds. However, the course has given me an opportunity to reflect on the innovation approach I apply in my role. As a final exercise, I am taking some time to reflect on the key points of learning.
(This reflection will focus on approaches, rather than content. However, along the way I’ve chosen to write coursework pieces on: the UN’s approach to running innovation labs in pursuit of the SDGs, our in-house project at Friends of the Earth to make local data on climate more relevant and targeted (not my finest effort this one!), Islabike’s circular economy project and, for my final assessment, the emerging cultured meat industry in the UK. So I’ve learned a lot more about all of these along the way, and in particular the latter).
Have I met my learning objectives?
What was I looking to get out of this programme? Picking from the course objectives these were the most important to me:
- develop your knowledge and understanding of the relationship between a range of contextual and temporal variables that condition and shape the practice and application of technology and innovation management (TIM)
- develop your ability to advance your knowledge and understanding of TIM through independent learning and reflection on practice and experience
- communicate clearly knowledge, ideas and conclusions about TIM and innovation in general, with particular reference to the organisational, sectoral or industrial context of most relevance to you
In other words, I wanted a space to deepen understanding of my practice — and of course I didn’t know what didn’t know. Was there anything I was missing by not having any formal background in innovation management? The questions below where I summarise the knowledge acquired, and the tools or skills speak to points 1 and 2. 3 is harder — I haven’t communicated much about this, and in fact I haven’t written as much as I would like at all since January. But that largely reflects the fact that I ended up doing this work during the pandemic, and from January to March we were also homeschooling (on top of working). I have however been lucky to have been able to take some study leave time from work to complete assignments.
In the table I’ve listed some things I’ve learned, and what the implications are. Most thought-provoking however has been this long article setting innovation approaches in the context of our current climate and nature crisis. The authors, Johan Schot and W. Edward Steinmueller make a compelling case that innovation needs to be oriented towards large scale system change and that to do this, we need a focus on “on anticipation, experimentation, participation, and directionality” (directionality being a specific and deliberate consideration of alternative pathways of development, rather than just a pre-supposition of a techno-fix or market correction).
“[…] experiments are seen as temporary spaces for actors working together on a variety of concrete pathways, including policy actors as well as other business, civil society, users and private funders […] Experiments demand that actors embrace uncertainty and accept failure as part of the learning process, focus on articulation of new shared expectations and visions, the building of new networks, and the shaping of new markets (called niches) which eventually will challenge dominant practices in mainstream markets and institutions.”
There are big challenges, but it feels like (another) significant endorsement of the experimental approach.
I’ve used the table below to summarise some of what I’ve learned — and what it might mean. There is no particular order here — and there’s lots of detail that I’ve left out. But when I look back, here are some of the core points that I have identified.