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The Sorrell Foundation: A Model of Managing Creativity and Innovation. BSM702: Managing Creativity and Innovation. May 14th, 2010. Word Count: 3050.

The Sorrell Foundation was established in 1999 by John and Frances Sorrell “with the aim of inspiring creativity in young people and improving the quality of life through good design” (The Sorrell Foundation, n.d). Since then, it has been developing and prototyping models that can be widely used in order to achieve its main objectives. The concept of creativity being in the core of the foundation’s beliefs, it is central to study the organization’s methods of managing creativity and innovation. Creativity and innovation have always been the topic of heated debates among researchers and practitioners. The definitions of the two terms have developed over time and have often been confused and interchanged. Yet, it is important to understand the relationship between the two concepts, their meeting points and their divergences. Creativity in a traditional context is very individual, genius and irrational. The myth of the genius artist as an eccentric, almost crazy person was the personification of creativity. From musicians (like Mozart) to physicists (like Einstein), all creative minds had the same “genius” characteristics. Today, however, this idea of the individual is developing to encompass a larger realm. As Boden defines it, “creativity is the ability to come up with ideas or artifacts that are new, surprising and valuable” (2004, p.1). Here, creativity becomes even involved in mere everyday activities and hence present in every person. This definition of creativity breaks it from its traditional association with the privileged minority and adds a layer of importance to it, which is that of “value”. It is only when an idea creates value in its specific context, that it can be creative. Thus, according to this definition, creativity depends on the novelty of the idea, and on its contextual value. Moreover, creativity today has moved forward from being a personal skill into becoming the product of teamwork. It can be found in groups of people working together, in systems and teams, bringing in complementary (or even opposite) abilities and qualities (Bilton, 2008). This is where the need for managing creativity arises. Innovation on the other hand, although sometimes wrongly equated with creativity, focuses more on processes. It occurs when the ability to see connections and to spot opportunities are present (Bessant et. al., 2003). More importantly, innovation is possible only upon the successful exploitation of new ideas, and hence of creativity. The main distinction between creativity and innovations is that creativity forms something from nothing (new ideas) yet innovation shapes those ideas into a successful product or service.

BSM702: Managing Creativity and Innovation


Defining the two terms of creativity and innovation helps determine the position of the Sorrell Foundation in relation to each. Context being crucial, the question here shouldn’t be about whether the Sorrell Foundation is creative or innovative but rather about the degree of its creativity and innovation in its particular framework. Operating in the public voluntary sector comes with its specific set of boundaries and limitations. Usually, the organizations in this sector are very traditional and relatively resistant to change. They lack the motivation to innovate and the tense competition dominating the for-profit sector. However, the Sorrell Foundation, since the beginning, was always looking for new and challenging ways to engage young people. It considers them active members of society and of each project not just passive receivers. The work of the organization is mainly focused on the development of different projects, linked together by a defined methodology that is constantly progressing. The creativity of the foundation is demonstrated in its principles. Sorrell Foundation took a step forward compared to others when it decided to put creativity as its main aspiration. Through its work, it does not only try to help young people but it also considers them as a primary stakeholder in every project as will be demonstrated below. This integration of user-centered design and co-design, which are usually specific to the private sector, is a demonstration of the foundation’s creative approach. Yet, the creativity of the organization does not stop at an early stage. When working on projects, it is constantly thriving to develop and progress its methods. The foundation has been operating for more than ten years, working on different projects, and always readapting its ideas according to the needs of its target audience. This continuous search for new ideas and ways of applying them is an assertion of the innovative side of the company. The Sorrell Foundation has always managed projects bringing together young people with design. In 2000, the Joinedupdesignforschools program was launched exploring how good design can improve the quality of life in schools by discussing with the consumers of education themselves, students. Running in different schools and regions in the UK, this program inspires young pupils to become more involved and confident. It gives them the role of “clients” with the belief that they are most capable of discussing the educational system and buildings in the UK, being the main users. This program was later commissioned by the Building Schools for the Future (BSF) project, a governmental initiative to refurbish and rebuild all the secondary schools in the UK within the next twenty years (Teachernet, 2007). After working with many pupils from different schools and backgrounds, the Sorrell BSM702: Managing Creativity and Innovation


Foundation is currently operating in the Kingston and Croydon regions. Joinedupdesignforschools Kingston and Croydon was launched in April 2010 and will be completed with the celebration day in September 2010. The program consists of meetings and workshops conducted every month, each with a different theme (ex. Sustainability, materials, architecture...), during which selected students from each secondary school in Kingston and Croydon participate. All through the program, the sessions are facilitated by a group of professionals all from a design or education background. Fortunately, students from the MA Design for Development were asked to participate in the program, which gave me the chance to be part of it. Being personally involved in the project gives me an insight on the systems and methods used by the Sorrell Foundation to manage this creative process. In addition to my own perspective, an email interview with Ian Thompson, project manager from the Sorrell Foundation, was conducted to get his ideas and thoughts regarding the organization in general and this project in particular (appendix). In order for an organization to become established, networking should be at the core of its principles. It should build connections with other groups and associations to be able to obtain its place in the system. The Sorrell Foundation has a ten-year experience in its portfolio, which, according to Thompson, helped attract the attention of officials towards it. For this particular project, the Sorrell Foundation was approached and asked to be part of the BSF by the councils of Croydon and Kingston. The organization’s previous successful work and their personal presentations built a convincing reputation around it making their clients “come to them” and not vice-versa. Of course, this was only possible after years of experience and development in their projects supported by witty networking. At this point, the focus of management shifts from the adoption of the project to its implementation. Through all their projects, the Sorrell Foundation has co-design at the core of the innovation process. They view young people as being an essential stakeholder when brainstorming, designing and exchanging ideas. According to the organization, pupils being the main users of schools, they should be deeply involved in their re-design. This role taken by pupils as clients is beneficial on two dimensions. First, students gain confidence, self-esteem and design knowledge for the future. Also, the BSF project achieves its goals through insightful initiatives of students. When preparing for a project, the managers need to go through two major consecutive phases: first, preparing with facilitators and second managing

BSM702: Managing Creativity and Innovation


workshops with young pupils. Each phase requires a different set of methods that would each lead to a certain objective. For the Sorrell Foundation, working with a different group of facilitators on each project, it is necessary to familiarize them with the principles of the organization. One main objective, according to Thompson, is to benefit from the different people’s views coming together on a particular project. Here, project managers organize workshops during which facilitators are presented with their respective roles. The Sorrell Foundation has its methods of dealing with pupils, which were developed and tested for the past ten years. Hence, it gives very organized guidelines regarding how meetings with pupils ought to proceed. Yet, from a personal experience, there is always room for discussion and individual input onto the process especially through meetings and planning. After facilitators are ready, they in turn take on the responsibility of managing their individual groups of pupils. Co-design is defined as the collaboration between designers and people not trained in design working together in the design process (Sanders & Stappers, 2008). This new method of design has been embraced by many professionals as being very effective when trying to manage creativity and innovation. In the case of the Joinedupdesignforschools program, facilitators work together with clients (students). Each session focuses on a different theme prepared by the Sorrell Foundation based on research. Depending on the theme, a certain set of activities follows in order to familiarize students with the ideas and stimulate creative outcomes. For example, the first day of the Kingston and Croydon project was set around materials. In order to present pupils with the possibilities available to them, they were taken on a tour around South Bank in London. All through the walk, we (as facilitators) were trying to draw their attention to small details and encourage them into questioning the possibility of using certain materials in their own schools. The feedback from pupils was very insightful as they were very stimulated by their surrounding and they started to notice previously unobvious things in their environment. In addition to observation, each day contains a “design challenge” where pupils needed to work in groups to solve a certain problem and report back to everybody through a creative presentation. Here, the real co-designing begins where pupils from different schools, ages, backgrounds and sexes work together in order to create a viable solution. Facilitators at this point are responsible of leading the conversation and stimulating curiosity. During a very short period of time, the team is capable of generating amazingly interesting ideas that are only possible BSM702: Managing Creativity and Innovation


through co-creation. In addition to organized activities, the pupils are encouraged to be constantly critical of their surrounding. Hence, they are given homework at the end of each session in relation to the following one where it can be discussed. This personal creative activity comes to support the collective one. It gives each pupil space for private reflections on the matter and later makes it the subject of shared interest thus, of co-design. In order to sustain its programs, the Sorrell Foundation established in 2007 the Young Design Centre in the Somerset House. The aim of the centre is to explore what young people expect from design at school and in their daily lives (The Sorrell Foundation, n.d.). In the centre are held exhibitions, workshops and events which all support the main aim of the foundation. The Young Design Centre hence becomes a substantial space standing as a manifestation of all the successes of the previous projects and as a stimulator for pupils engaged in the later ones. The Sorrell Foundation has over the years developed and built up models through prototyping and piloting. Thompson, in the interview, believes that this collaborated to the construction of a very sturdy and reliable portfolio of work that is expected to deliver without difficulties. Yet, like with any “live� project, he recognizes the possibility of innovation failure due to circumstances and conditions particular to a certain task. Here, the facilitators try to take a rapid proactive response to the issue and handle it on the short and long term. For example, pupils were required to prepare a small presentation after each meeting, no matter how informal, and report the day back to their friends, teachers, or even parents. This activity was expected to help encourage students share their ideas and become more confident about them. Also, it would feed back into the next session and create a smoother flow of ideas. However, response gathered showed that only half the pupils were actually able to present back which means that the activity was not successfully applied. Many reasons were found behind the issue: the students were not confident enough, or they were not given the chance to present because of a misunderstanding between the school and the Sorrell Foundation. As a response, the Sorrell Foundation is working on reminding all the schools in Kingston and Croydon about their activities and guiding them through the process.

BSM702: Managing Creativity and Innovation


This example is a rather simple problem that rose unexpectedly during the program. Working with clients and especially with young people, this risk is ever present. Yet, it is not the failure to innovate that matters but rather the way the organization handles this failure through immediate and researched responses that can deal with it and avoid it in the future. When discussing barriers to innovation, as argued above, very few stem from within the organization because of its creative essence. Since its establishment, creativity and innovation were at the centre of all programs developed by the Sorrell Foundation. Yet, the corporation cannot be seen as an independent entity, free from all restrictions. It is rather greatly influenced by the context in which it operates. The success and failure of the Joinedupdesignforschools Kingston and Croydon depends to the highest degree on the BSF initiative by the government. Thus, the socio-political climate in the UK determines whether this program will receive funding and support. Thompson recognizes very well the effect the current elections will have on the fate of the projects. According to the results, the government might cut the present massive budget specified to the BSF. With this cost cutting, the current projects of the Sorrell Foundation might be jeopardized. After overcoming the barriers to innovation (or trying to), it is very important to measure the level of success of the program. The criteria for measuring success are very different depending on each organization and where it functions. Especially for not-for-profit, it is a very delicate process since the aims are usually not money generating. Measuring economic gain is very objective and rather easy to quantify, yet, when the goals of the organization are not purely financial, it becomes harder to decide whether the targets were achieved or not and hence harder to measure success. For the Sorrell Foundation, success will be measured in regard to two major concerns: First, the extent to which the outcome of the workshops affected the building of new schools and the educational system in general and second, the impact of the experience on the young people. The Sorrell Foundation was commissioned to conduct these projects in order to better understand what students want and need in their schools. Therefore, it is understandable that the more say the pupils have in the development of new schools, the more successful the project is. On the other hand, the organization always aspires to achieve its main aim, which is to inspire and empower young people through design. Simply by being part of the whole experience, even if some are rather shy and silent, all pupils

BSM702: Managing Creativity and Innovation


benefit from it. They get unique chances of visiting universities, working with professional designers and even being the client for once and deciding what they want for their own school. This creates a sense of ownership and pride within students, which can be noticed even at the end of the first day. The current Joinedupdesignforschools Kingston and Croydon project being still in progress, one cannot decide yet upon its achievements and its level of success cannot be measured. However, this project follows a specific program that has been applied in other schools in the UK by the Sorrell Foundation. Hence, it would be interesting to study the success of those. Some of the projects developed before joining the BSF actually saw the light and followed the exact briefs set by the students/clients. New buildings were constructed according to the pupils’ demand. This in consequence had a very positive effect on students themselves who finally felt like their opinion was taken into consideration. A 15-year-old student reflecting on his experience says that he has “learnt that there are no boundaries; you can go as far as want to go and you have to have an open mind, so that you are wiling to allow this to be actually true.” (The Sorrell Foundation, n.d.) The comment of this pupil is the embodiment of success as defined by the Sorrell Foundation. Creativity and innovation have always been viewed as solely present in the traditional private sector of “creative industries”. Yet, today with the development of the two concepts, they can be found in any other sector no matter how “uncreative” it is considered to be. The Sorrell Foundation is the perfect example of organization that was not stuck in the conventional world of public sector but rather worked to develop its own way of serving society. It borrowed techniques of co-creation and user-centered design from the design world and incorporated them in its own programs. Here, managing creativity and innovation became a challenging task for higher management and for on-the-ground facilitators especially when dealing with young minds as clients. From this case study, it is interesting to draw on the growing role of innovation and creativity in the public sector and to understand the groundbreaking techniques developed to manage them.

BSM702: Managing Creativity and Innovation


REFERENCES Bessant, J., Pavitt, K., Tidd, J. (2005). Managing innovation: Integrating Technological, Market and Organizational Change. 3rd edition. Chichester: John Wiley.   Bilton, C. (2007), Management and Creativity. Oxford : Blackwell Publishing.   Boden, M.A. (2004). The Creative Mind: Myths and Mechanisms. 2nd edition. London: Routledge.   Partnership for Schools, (n.d.) [Internet]. <> [Accessed 9th May 2010]. Sanders, E., Strappers, P.J. (2008). Co-creation and the new landscapes of design. CoDesign. [Internet]. 4 (1), p. 5-18. <>. [Accessed 17th April 2010]. Teachernet, (2010). [Internet]. <> [Accessed 9th May 2010]. The Sorrell Foundation, (n.d.) [Internet]. <> [Accessed 2nd May 2010]. Thompson, I. (2010), [email interview].

BSM702: Managing Creativity and Innovation


APPENDIX Email Interview conducted with Ian Thopmson Question: How was the Sorrell Foundation commissioned to work on this project and why do you think it was chosen? Answer: Croydon and Kingston councils approached us when their building school for the future (BSF) funding was confirmed. They knew our previous work, and wanted to work with us to build a bespoke programme that supported their approach to BSF. Their approach is to use the BSF funding and process to support educational transformation in all Croydon and Kingston secondary schools. Croydon and Kingston knew our work by reputation, (possibly through other local authorities, or through seeing presentations at conferences), and trusted that we could deliver a quality programme. We in turn took tried and tested elements of previous work and assembled a new approach. Q: What are the motivations behind innovation in the public sector? A: One of our founders, John Sorrell has previously stated that historically, while the UK has the best design industry in the world, most of the clients were in the private sector. Early Sorrell Foundation work from 2000-2005 highlighted the benefits of high quality design to both the educations and health sectors. Recent investment in public sector infrastructure under the Blair and Brown Labour government, 19972010 has enabled the Sorrell Foundation to engage with real change in the public sector, having been cited as best practice, and funded to contribute to the current investment in schools. While this investment has delivered high quality schools that are raising educational standards, detractors would say that the financial costs are too high, especially in a post-recession climate while we service a large annual deficit. Whatever the outcome of tomorrowâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s general election, the new government will certainly cut public spending. Whether we continue to invest in new schools, (and other new public resources) remains to be seen. Advocates of continued investment say that as a nation we have now built expertise, momentum, some economies of scale, and we would be foolish to stop now. Opponents are critical of over-powerful, (and over-expensive) quangos and seek radical structural change.

BSM702: Managing Creativity and Innovation


Q: Working in the public sector, what are in your opinion the major barriers faced and how do you overcome them? Was the process of co-design and consulting with students easily accepted as a methodology by schools and officials? A: The schools and local authorities that we have worked with have welcomed this methodology, and have been pleased with the results. In a perfect scenario, our programmes serve to catalyse and enable ongoing local work. In many cases this has happened. While the idea of ‘pupil voice’ was unusual when we began this work in 2000, it has grown in popularity. Indeed, some form of ‘pupil consultation’ is part of the legal framework for BSF. Having said this, some local authorities have not approached us. This could be because they do not agree with our approach, (or they may be doing things inhouse or with other organisations). It is difficult to gather feedback on this issue Q: What were the necessary resources for the launch of this project and how were they spotted? A: Very little. Our costs are mainly people and spaces. Some resources such as presentations and our materials trolley also need to be created. As with a lot of our work, we take elements from previous projects, add new elements and create a bespoke package. Q: How do you choose staff and facilitators that would be involved in the process? The project being multi-disciplinary, do you sense any tension between professionals from different fields? A: Staff and facilitators all have either a design or education, (and sometimes both) background, are skilled, and enjoy working with young people. Some are specialists with particular skills in working with pupils from pupils referral units (PRUs) and/or special educational needs (SEN) schools. I don’t think that there are issues between different disciplines. This could be partly because our programmes are highly structured, and so roles are quite clear.

BSM702: Managing Creativity and Innovation


Q: Why was the process of co-design chosen? A: In our experience, giving young people the role of clients is a reversal of the normal school design and procurement process. It not only unearths new design issues, but also empowers the young people to take ownership of the changes that will be happening to their schools. The best results, both in the short and long term, are when school leadership teams and local authorities embrace this approach and integrate their pupils into the Building Schools for the Future process. Pupils also gain knowledge about design as well as personal and professional skills through this engagement. Q: The project being not-for-profit, it is hard to assess the success of it. What are the criteria for measuring this success? A: With this project we will be measuring impact upon educational transformation in Croydon and Kingston through an ongoing relationship with the local authorities, looking in particular at the extent to which young people contribute to the changes. We will be trying to understand the levers or enablers that have made this a success. We will also be measuring the impact of this experience on the young people through collaboration with a PHD student. This will take the form of observations and questionnaires collecting self-evaluations at different stages of the project from all participants. We have taken a similar approach in measuring other projects. Q: What are the next steps after the many meetings and workshops with the clients (students)? How will the results be implemented? A: We will be asking the ‘clients’ to work with the TECK advisors to support BSF across the two boroughs by engaging with other young people. We won’t be involved in this stage, although there could be further opportunities for knowledgetransfer work with Kingston University.

BSM702: Managing Creativity and Innovation


Q: Do you think the results from this project could be diffused and duplicated on a bigger scale around the UK or are they specific to the area and its people? A: Both elements are true. This approach could certainly be replicated in different areas, while at the same time, needs and agendas are quite specific, and to a certain degree, projects need to be bespoke. There are also benefits in having a degree of authorship and hence greater ownerships of projects. In the early day of BSF people spoke about creating a single design for a 21st century school. It soon became clear that while you can certainly identify and learn from best practice, this wouldn’t be the solution Q: What are the risks of failure in a project? How do you manage them? How would you assess your organization’s response to “innovation” failure? A: We have built up models slowly through prototyping and piloting since 2000, while carrying out extensive evaluations. At these stages we have been very clear with participants that they were part of an experiment. From these models, we now have a reliable portfolio (or menu) of work that we know will deliver. As stated earlier, these elements are integrated into new work. In addition, we keep an eye what other people are doing, and what theory/new information is emerging. We will then bring appropriate approaches and ideas into our work. We recognize that some innovation may fail, and try to be responsive during ‘live’ projects. For example, feedback that facilitators gathered at last Fridays session, revealed that only around half the pupils had made presentations in their schools as asked in session 1. This was because they didn’t know how to approach teachers, headteachers etc, and also because they couldn’t access the web recourses. We are therefore going to print out the homework tasks at the next session, and try to ensure that all participating schools are aware of what we are doing and are receptive to ongoing feedback.

BSM702: Managing Creativity and Innovation


The Sorrell Foundation: A Model of Managing Creativity & Innovation