Lab log #12: Innovation Portfolio Sensemaking and Management Workshop

How can we be better at making an impact on the grand challenges that we are facing globally, in our societies and our organizations? This was the question that we explored in our two-day Innovation Portfolio Sensemaking and Management workshop together with leading-edge international partners.
Photo: Minna Hemmilä / Sitra

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Mikael Seppälä

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We were privileged to host almost 40 practitioners from 20 organizations in the workshop with the purpose of exploring the topic together and taking the thinking forward in Finland and internationally. Our international partner institutionsUNDP and Climate-KICthat are already practitioners of the approaches joined our space for co-learning to explore the topic more themselves as well. The goal of the event was to build a shared understanding of innovation portfolios and how to use them. 

The hypothesis behind the approach we were exploring in our workshop is that perhaps the barrier hindering us from making a better global or societal impact is not the lack of ideas and projects but rather in their relationships to each otherTo echo thinking from Ingrid Burkett (then) from TACSI (The Australian Centre for Social Innovation), perhaps we are focusing too much on working on single-point solutions and too little on systems change 

The question is how do we shift from single-point magic bullets to enabling systems transformation with multiple organizations, levels and interventions? Systems change requires embracing the spaghetti of actively facilitating the relationships between people and their organizations. And not only doing this for the programme at hand but also over time to have a lasting impact on whatever is being tackled 

Day 1 of the workshop had the goal of providing an overview into innovation portfolios. Chief Strategy Officer Tom Mitchell from the European Union’s climate innovation initiative Climate-KIC started the presentations by telling about how their organization has evolved its role into orchestrator of an ecosystem of over 2000 partnersClimate-KIC is not only a funder but uses its portfolio to pool resources, facilitate shared and adaptive learning by doing between problem owners (cities, governments, companies, etc.) and those participating in projects.  

Tom Mitchell’s slides:

Director Gina Belle from the CHÔRA Foundation is one of the consultants that has helped both Climate-KIC and UNDP Accelerator Labs develop their practices around innovation portfolios. Gina provided an inter-organizational perspective into portfolio practices that help support tackling complex problems. Gina spoke in detail about the theory and practices of Portfolio Design, Portfolio Composition, Portfolio Sensemaking and Portfolio Experience.  

Gina Belle’s slides: 

Whereas the traditional approach to portfolio management focuses on projects, Chief Storyteller Tony Quinlan from Narrate spoke about using Cognitive Edge’s SenseMaker in building portfolios of experiments. Tony’s main point was to highlight that uncovering the narratives of the people within a domain helps see the different perspectives people might have in relation to it. Because people’s perspectives vary, also the experiments should be tailored to fit the different clusters of perspectives rather than take a “one-solution-fits-all” approach. SenseMaker and the approach of using it to build a portfolio of experiments helps especially in helping people coming from different backgrounds coverge towards a shared direction.  

Tony Quinlan’s slides: 

Day 2 of the workshop focused on the innovation portfolio practices. It was opened by Giulio Quaggiotto from UNDP who spoke about the practices that they are using to bridge the gap between the complex sustainability problems and the current practices. Giulio introduced UNDP’s new Portfolio SenseMaking and Accelerating Protocol that they are using to help enable better impact.   

Giulio Quaggiotto’s slides: 

After the presentations Gina Belle and Learning Services Lead Solla Zophoniasdottir from Climate-KIC facilitated a pair of workshop sessions to help us get an understanding how to do this in practice. The first one was on Portfolio Composition which is about exploring how a set of projects might support each other and making decisions on which ones to fund. The second workshop was on Portfolio SenseMaking which focuses on building learning between the different ongoing projects. Portfolio SenseMaking helps uncover the structural changes and support that the projects would need in order to succeed and help the projects converge in terms of learning.  

The workshop materials can be downloaded by clicking here.  

In terms of next steps, over the course of the spring of 2020 we will be continuing to learn more about the portfolio approach and the capabilities related to itWe will do this in a series of workshops with the Finnish organizations that share interest in exploring how to apply the approach.  

Also, we’ve noticed that it seems like there is a lot of interest in the approach. In addition to excellent blogs and articles from UNDP and Climate-KIC working out loud to share their insights into how to do this in practice, there is very little in terms of public guidance. We hope to help contribute to extend the understanding of the portfolio approach by building a toolkit for practitioners.  

Please do not hesitate to contact us if we can contribute take this approach forward and help enhance our collective capabilities in making an impact 

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Mikael Seppälä

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