Co-design Thought leadership

“Being able to visualise a different world is hard”  


Credit goes to Dan Perry (CIO and University librarian, Keele University) for the quote in the title, which encapsulates some thinking we’ve been doing about taking the plunge into innovation. 

Going first with an innovative idea 

It is difficult to be the forerunner. Innovation adoption is not for everyone because it involves risk-taking and resources. Supporting institutions to be able to take a risk is something we consider in our research and co-design processes. To be able to innovate and succeed there needs to be a strong process in place, and support for taking the next steps.  

Jisc Pathfinders is aimed at providing the process and support to members.  Our collaborative approach, and flexibility of use of tools and process should help members to increase their innovation outcomes for students and staff.   

Finding out what members want to explore 

At the Association of Colleges conference in November, Jisc’s DemoZone included an interactive survey. We asked participants to identify their main barrier to carrying out innovation. As you’d possibly expect, most respondents clicked on ‘cost’ as the primary blocker. However, ‘difficulty’ and ‘ideas’ came in joint second – and these are things we can help to address. We believe that the leaders who completed the survey are doing themselves a disservice if they imagine they don’t have enough ideas to take forward. What we can do is work with them, using some tried and tested design thinking techniques, to get those ideas out. We should then overcome some of the difficulty too.  

Our second question posed the scenario that if Jisc had removed the barrier identified in the first question, which area for development would college leaders most like to focus on. ‘Student health and wellbeing’ was the top choice here, for around 40% who took part. ‘Improving the digital skills and capability of staff’ and ‘reimagining their campus spaces’ were the runners up. There were also a few votes each for the other areas we’d pre-selected: future of assessment, agile or hybrid working, personalisation, and curriculum development. All these areas have been recently brought to our attention in conversations with Jisc members. Various pieces of research, innovation and co-design have already started. 

Focussing on the right problems 

It’s easy to jump straight to the first solution that occurs to us or be steered toward an easy to implement tool. It’s also easy to see why people focus on the immediate problems; there’s usually someone raising it as an issue via a forum or in a meeting.  

For innovation to really occur we need to be ready to take risks. For effecting a transformation we need to alter our focus to challenges which are further out. By asking “what’s the issue?”, “why is it a problem?” multiple times, of many stakeholders, then we should be able to get to work on the right problem to create innovation. 

How can we help boost your innovation effort? 

Get in touch! We’d love to talk to you about your ideas and challenge areas. We all want or need validation from others for our ideas. Jisc Pathfinders can bring some collaborative effort to realising your ideas and find sector partners who can validate and adopt the innovation too. Contact 

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