Community consultation, innovation and a Masters dissertation

This week I graduated as a Master in Innovation from London’s Cass Business School. My fellow graduates were management consultants, tech experts, interior designers, marketeers and financial regulators; and each had their own reason for becoming an expert in innovation.

My own perspective was formed by a set of industries that I perceive to be achingly slow at innovation — urban design, property development and public transport. As a result, I was intrigued by how low innovation industries could be encouraged to innovate. I wanted to know how to get an industry, that had rested on its laurels for too long, to innovate and wondered what it could learn from innovative industries. My specific focus was two vastly different industries — the fast-paced technology industry and the slow-to-change property development industry.

I zoomed in on public consultation and how property developers engage with the people that a development will affect. From my own experience, I felt this process had little genuine consequence and was an area ripe for innovation — but felt that those conducting it rarely tried new things.

As someone who grew up fascinated by the changes happening to the city around me, I always felt giving normal people some control over a city’s development was massively important. However, this importance and fascination often evaporated whenever I attended a public consultation event in my local area. Watching obnoxious, un-representative locals arguing with self-righteous designers about tokenistic gestures and pre-decided outcomes, was not time well spent. Having now worked on the “other side” for over ten years, attending these events from the designer’s or developer’s perspective, my excitement for them has waned still further. I still get excited about the way my city changes, but I feel removed from the decisions that drive it.

Meanwhile, every other part of twenty first century life is offering us opportunities to engage and asking for our feedback. My phone and computer asks my permission to send automatic feedback to Google, Apple and Microsoft; phone apps use this real time data to tell me the best way to get across the city at any given moment; my news feed on Facebook uses algorithms to work out exactly what I want to see and which adverts may persuade me to buy. But my city (and the new apartment block due to deprive me of sunlight) doesn’t care what I want, who I am, or how it might affect me.

It was in this context that I focused my Master of Innovation dissertation on working out how the property development industry might be disrupted (and made better) by a few ideas from the technology industry.

Twelve months on I’ve learnt a lot about innovation, public consultation and the property industry. I also met loads of amazing people and I came up with a few ideas that may help to reduce the gap between the way a city changes and the people that use it.

Over the coming weeks and months, I’ll let the story of my research — starting with the theory of disruptive innovation and how cross-industry thinking might help create it.

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