Why we created an Innovation Hub at British Red Cross

Jessica Ferguson
Jul 18, 2019 · 4 min read

Innovation doesn’t stand still, it’s courageous, dynamic and ever evolving.

This has been the case for the innovation journey at British Red Cross and the path we will continue on to ensure our mission to support people in crisis. Our definition, approach and team structures focused to enable innovation have been through a few iterations over the years, so I will try and paint a picture of how we have come to our current (evolving) state.

Where it all began

It all started with fundraising, like all organisations to deliver our mission we need to generate the necessary income; and within the sector the means of doing this are changing rapidly. So the first dedicated team back in 2016 was Fundraising Innovation, who focused on Radical Innovation (through our involvement in Good Lab), New Product Development and Incremental Innovation.

In its current form, the awesome Ben Cohen Tanya Mathew Alex Moffatt and Bethan Morgan make up the Fundraising Innovation team, who continue to focus on Product Development. Recently they have scaled Little Hero’s and Miles for Refugees. You can keep up to date on Ben’s Twitter and read about their recent sprint!

The catalyst

It was clear that this new way of working, thinking and culture could make positive change. Soon other innovation functions emerged in Retail, UK Operations and volunteering. In parallel other similar approaches were taking place across the organisation, such as the Digital Team who (alongside transformation programmes) created products such as the First Aid mobile apps and Alexa Skill.

This posed some questions for the organisation: who was driving our overarching innovation strategy? What was our common approach, tools and language? How can we support people across the organisation to innovate? It also meant that many ideas slipped through the cracks, which naturally appear when you work in silos. It was clear that we needed to lower the barriers to innovation for staff, volunteers and the broader community to enable people with any idea to explore it…plain and simple.

We’re a large, complex organisation so let’s just say these questions weren’t answered overnight. And in the spirit of openness many of our answers to our questions are yet to be answered and we will test, learn and develop them along the way.

Where we are at now

So I am writing this two months into us having a team, which sits at the heart of the organisation — ‘The Innovation Hub’. It’s been 10 months since our initial questioning and exploration but the rubber has now hit the road!

This lovely diagram will hopefully give you all the visual explanation you need on the innovation teams at British Red Cross and how we fit together:

As The Innovation Hub we look to enable innovation in three ways:

  • Connect innovation teams and disruptors providing oversight of the innovation portfolio and identify opportunities across teams
  • Drive cross organisational transformation projects and proof of concepts
  • Support people across the organisation to innovate through access to tools, methodologies, resources and coaching

The Innovation Hub: who we are and what we explore

Our team is made up of people looking at ‘Big Bets’ with subject matter experts in the organisation and those focused around developing an innovation culture, which we call Innovation Architecture.

For 2019 our ‘Big Bet’s’ are:

Laura, Alice and Christina who support our Innovation Architecture will also be sharing our experience launching an ideas challenge, running proof of concepts and coaching.

Where we want to get to

This is about catalysing change and embedding innovation, so at some point my job will be redundant. If that happens then the teams mission will have been successful.

Our role is to support all British Red Crosser’s, staff and volunteers alike to innovate and for it to become part of our DNA.

Oh and if you want to know how we are getting on (successes and failures), get involved or share insights from your experience , just give us a follow or get in touch!