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Authenticity in social innovation – encouraging stakeholder engagement

Authenticity in social innovation – encouraging stakeholder engagement

Before we dive into the stakeholder best practices according to Nesta and Groundswell Innovation… Let’s just make sure we’re on the same page about social innovation.

According to Organisation for EconomicCo-operation and Development (OECD) social innovation refers to the design, creation and implementation of solutions which aim to address the socio-economic issues amongst various individuals and communities. Alongside socio-economic problems, many innovation initiatives also positively contribute to an area’s environmental and economic development.  

When it comes to social innovation and championing community-led visions in the public sector, there’s a lot of talk about ‘authentic’ public engagement and consultation. For many, that’s simply another box to tick in the bureaucratic process. But it shouldn’t be.  

Because with the right approaches we can develop policies, collaborations and solutions which have the potential to make a real difference – for the stakeholders they impact most.  

The right tools, the right approach 

So, you’re probably wondering: what are the right approaches? Nesta’s DIY Toolkit is a handy reference document outlining best practice and effective ways to engage stakeholders. A big focus of Groundswell’s innovation consultation is all about ‘collecting input from others’.  

Quantitative or Qualitative? 

Whilst gathering quantitative data is important, it often doesn’t give us the whole picture; you also need to gather authentic qualitative data – because that’s where you’ll see most impact. With that combination, you can draw links between data through a hugely diverse range of opinions and perspectives which will help you develop solutions that will truly have a positive impact.  

Nesta recommends drawing qualitative data from a number of engagement methods, including ‘interview guides’, ‘question ladders’ and ‘story worlds’ 

“The easiest way to understand a person is to speak to them. Interviews are a way to connect with people; an opportunity to hear them describe their experiences in their own words.” – Nesta DIY Toolkit (p.58) 

The idea is to gain an understanding of the problems they face, their environment and the ways they can be supported – and as Nesta says, “interviews also act as evidence for why your work is needed or what impact your work is creating.” 

Key Nesta Tools: 

The best practice to adopt is to create an interview guide or framework for your engagement, to ensure consistency in your process and clarity on outcomes. To get the best out of your interviewees, the process should be engaging, fun and have both broad and deep prompts.  

There’s a great section in the Nesta toolkit all about how to ask the ‘right’ questions, using a question ladder. Be specific, be clear. But please remember, the purpose of authentic engagement is not to guide your interviewees towards your desired conclusion – it’s to provide a space for people to explore and bring to light their own feelings and opinions. 

Don’t dismiss the importance of documentation… 

Whilst it’s insightful to take part in these interviews and workshops and come away full of ideas… You mustn’t forget to create a solid documentation process. You need to develop a structured way to record the content you discuss, so that you have a clear point of reference for further analysis, communication and key insights. Nesta recommends using their story world tool which “enables you to bring part of a person’s world with you once you start designing a solution that is addressed to them.” 

Authentic public engagement and consultation should no longer be a tick box exercise, and at Groundswell Innovation we work hard to deliver specialised stakeholder engagement which focuses on the heart of social innovation practice – the people. 

See our work in action 

For more insight, read our case study where we helped Crewe secure £20m of funding for generation of their town centre: https://groundswellinnovation.co.uk/challenges/crewe-towns-fund 

Sources:  View Nesta’s DIY-Toolkit here – https://www.nesta.org.uk/toolkit/diy-toolkit/  


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