We set up an Ideas Lab in UK Trade & Investment just over a year ago to test new ideas and ways of working that can help deliver the Government’s trade goals. A few recent publications and events are leading me to reflect on where we’ve got to and where we are going next.
To date, we’ve provided analysis on diverse issues such as the sharing economy, customer engagement, and digital transformation. We’ve delivered small-scale practical outreach on issues such as women in business; young people’s understandings of trade; and engagement with diasporas. And we have tested new ways of engaging customers and staff, encountering a tremendous amount of creativity and passion along the way.
More than anything this passion from those we’ve met - the desire to make a difference, to share stories and insights, and willingness to lend a hand - is a huge inspiration. As is the endless creativity and ideas we’ve come across.
I personally loved the idea of us working in a transparent pop-up office outside our Westminster building. The public would be able to see what we are up to, or even enter and contribute to our work – open policy-making on a whole new level! We haven’t made that one happen … at least yet.Pop-up aside, this work by the lab has led to some real practical differences in delivery. That said, there are three challenges focusing our minds on where we go next.
1. How to make a reality of our aspirations to be a leading export nation
As the Cole Commission on Exports eloquently says, nothing short of a step change is needed in mind-sets, culture, and structures. In short, we need new approaches to export support. The challenge is not only to identify the right changes to make, but to get the implementation right too.
A recent PWC seminar I attended on Building Public Trust brought home to me the central role of trust in this, a feeling shared by attendees from business, government and NGOs. This is echoed by the Edelman Trust Barometer. It suggests that trust is essential to the success of new products and services, and is built by demonstrating benefits, acting with integrity, and engaging with customers.
2. The challenge of how to deliver better, faster, and cheaper public services
This is potentially about a whole new operating model for Government, with digital at its core. On that score, the emerging work on ‘Government as a Platform’ feels of particularly relevance to us. UKTI is one amongst a number of players in supporting businesses to export. Other parts of Government, banks, accountancy firms, Chambers, business bodies and trade associations all play a role.
Might we, for instance, focus our energies on supporting or creating a ‘platform’ or ‘marketplace’ where all suppliers and consumers of export support go to interact? And how do we best work across seamlessly across Government to deliver our side of the bargain?
3. Understanding what works and what doesn’t
On the one hand I find it surprising how little we know about what works internationally. For instance, how does UK exporting compare to France, Italy, and Germany in various aspects? On the other hand it’s great to see the efforts going in – in Government and outside - to addressing evidence gaps and sharing learnings, best practice, and new techniques and tools, for instance, through the great work of the Cabinet Office Policy Lab. And when it comes to labs themselves, the global gathering in London in June of innovation teams at Lab Works was a great opportunity to share and learn from others.
This all leads the Ideas Lab to a new intense phase of engagement with potential and existing exporters.
As our Minister for Trade and Investment puts it, the focus must be on “user needs, user needs, user needs.” As Graham Cole, Chair of the Cole Commission on Exports has put it “there must be a role reversal where government sees business as the customer.”
We hope this will give us a much deeper and rounded understanding of businesses, their motivations and their behaviours when it comes to exporting. And we also hope this work will go beyond simply gaining new business insights and in to collaborating and co-designing ideas what might eventually become innovative solutions on export support.
So, bridging the trust gap, harnessing the passion of others, and a learning and sharing culture will become even more important to our work.
On which score, watch this space and join us on Twitter for more on upcoming events and activities throughout the summer.