Innovation Labs kick off in Yorkshire

I’m currently in a hotel in North Yorkshire with 10 new media companies, helping them develop ideas for new web services, and build a pitch to BBC commissioners by Friday. We’ve got mentors from the BBC and experts in user-centred design who have worked at places like Xeroc Park, Sapient and Ideo. We’re at the end of the second day now, and most of the teams have already gone through about 4 or 5 iterations of their idea, looking at it from the perspective of the technology, the user, or the BBC, and getting feedback from everyone on their idea and pitching style. Its pretty intense, but good fun, and really creative – my brain hasn’t had a workout like this for some time.

This is all part of a project I’ve been developing over the last year called Innovation Labs. Its a pilot initiative to try and see how the BBC can work with new media indies across the UK. We had a call for ideas in late autumn last year, and recieved over 170 ideas from the three pilot projects in Yorkshire, London and the North-West. 29 ideas were selected, and we’ve been giving feedback to the teams over the last few months, preparing them for the rapid-prototyping exercises they’ll be doing in the week-long Lab.

Its a bit like a foo-camp, but with commissioning opportunities at the end. Even though the companies here are effectively in competition, there’s a huge amount of collaboration and sharing going on, as people give advice and suggestions across teams. Tomorrow, two commissioners from the BBC internet team – Jem Stone and Jason Daponte – turn up to give advice prior to the pitching, so things might get a bit more ruthless then…

We’ve redesigned the Innovation Labs site to reflect the week long events, with live blogs by mentors and participants at the Labs (although everyone seems too busy working at the moment to blog, so I might have to offer other incentives…)

Its an interesting and exciting project, but will only be worthwhile if it ends up in more good ideas being developed and commissioned by the BBC from outside companies. We’ll know by the end of March – after the third and final Lab in London – whether this has happened, but the signs are good, and I’ve already been talking to other regions across the UK about hosting Labs, so hopefully we can do it again, but make it bigger and better. Personally, I’m loving spending so much time discussing ideas with creative people, and would love to do it again next year.

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