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Matt Locke is hacking organizations

More running notes from the EU futurist conference

Matt Locke – Open innovation at the BBC

Introduced as an expert in the social adoption of technology, I first heard Matt at Picnic06 in an innovation session at the Zwijger media lab in Amsterdam.

Locke claims that he normally speaks at innovation conferences so has sensitivity to being amongst futurists.

“We tend to post-rationalize what we do to make it seem that what we do at work is actually predicted. The fact is that it is chaos at work. Futurists are the worst because they post rationalize things that haven’t even happened yet.”

He begins by discussing the waves of innovation at the BBC. The first wave of innovation was the digitization of traditional media, such as satellite TV. The second wave has come from people not with origins not in the traditional broadcasting sector. It is mostly IP based and interactive.

R&D in the first wave had high barriers, and long development cycles, and innovation came out of academia.

In the second wave, enterprise tools are made available for free and there are extremely fast development cycles. There is more activity in service and content than in the core infrastructure technologies. Innovation is happeneing amongst users.

For the first time in history there are no departments of radio and television at the BBC. Content and services are developed independent of the final format. They ask how the ideas will play out on multiple media. What is the half life of content after it’s been broadcast?

He cites Eric Von Hippel’s vision (sorry no cite!) about the democratization of innovation. For instance, they are seeing signals from their lead users. They are embracing four new communities with this spirit in mind: academia, industry, lead users and indies. 25% of their innovation budget is for external commisisions of new media services. He is eager to grow the indie market in the UK.

Example of tell.memore.info:
it is a new media knowledge transfer summit.The format is simple: 20 people from the BBC including commissioners and project owners and 20 academic participants have open conversations and see where they go. They use “open space” for facilitating dialogue. Rather than shoehorning the projects into the needs of the funding stream, or responses to formal calls for projects, it is a informal source of innovation.

Example of participateonlie.co.uk:
Worked with 100 school kids and gave them mainstream tech. They made maps of pollution on routes to school. They are trying to spin projects and prototypes every month or every week.

Main example = backstage.bbc.co.uk
Modeled off of Yahoo and Google developer networks. Also arose from the insight that people were scraping information from the site. People are openly posting ideas about what they would like to see. But people are also posting prototypes of what they built themselves. Recently they had a competition for building widgets. One is an application that takes the news of the last 12 hours and maps them on the UK. Such an application shows how people would want to use the BBC services. And the prototyping is proof of the fast development cycles.

Another example is the timeline by story by Mathew Sommerville (sorry no cite!) which shows how stories and headlines are changing online. This is based on the fortunate decision to assign a unique URL to every story. Wonderful resource for the research of stoires through time.

People are also using backstage to challenge the way BBC operates. You can build applications of what people are looking at in real time. Example of the cgrilet.com/bbctouch which shows the discrepancy between what people are reading and what the editorial staff think is most important to present.

open.bbc.co.uk/reboot:
This is a competition of designs for the ideal BBC homepage. They saw an increible amount of invention with new features and new design models. The winner had the idea of being able to customize the presentation to show three angles on the content.

1. your perspective
2, editorial perspective
3. mass perspective

Innovation labs
A social process of getting innovation from the external community. They set up bootcamps to iterate ideas from the community with the help of mentors and experts. Successful ideas are then brought forth to the commissioners.

To address thee Second Life hype, he showed an active object of a radio that you can take with you in Second Life. People are also taking backstage feeds and bringing them in Second life. For example Mario Menti who has created a scrolling screen for news headlines. (backstage.bbc.co.uk/…)

Pros and Cons of open innovation:
Pros:
It shifts design strategies to ‘users as designers’ and it encourages BBC to get its house together. It encourage open structures across inventories, assets and networks. To Locke, most importantly it represents that innovation is a social collaborative and iterative process. The idea of the ‘perpetual beta’ which is about closing the gap between research and implementation.

Difficult to rationalize where things are going. His strategy of innovation is one of “listening rather than of talking.”

Cons:
You can’t switch the innovation networks off as they are long term project. One of his majoor challenges is establishing a culture that has cooperation permeating between the internal and external teams. ‘Organizational Hacking’ is about creating paths for innovation into organization. He believes that the best way to challenge an organization is to ‘throw ideas at it’

And most importantly, there is a necessity to engender a cultural shirt from periodic innovation to continual evolution.

What are they doing next?
Amongst many others, an interesting development is getting ‘backstage’ into the organizational process so that an open and permeable development environment will develop in the next 2 years.

Q&A
An audience member asks about DRM. Locke mentions the user and corporate communities and their respective concerns. As a public service organization, they have the ability to establish their own standards. So to begin the conversaton, they brought in Lawrence Lessig, and originated the ‘creative archive,’ which was a way of taking archive material and making it available for reuse. There is a long tail in rights, because there may be numerous rights for any unit of media. Then there is the question of distributing information – consumers want the loosest rights so they can share it and play with it.

Interesting note that people can build applications around the archive even if the content isn’t there. “We have 90km of material in the BBC archives”

Bruno Giussani asks about how to encourage active participation in the BBC innovation projects and what sort of resistance Locke faces. Locke says that the only thing he needs to do is to ensure that there is funding for the prototypes. He is building pipes onto the innovation pipeline. So he has to maintain the flow of innovation. And when there is a blockage, he needs to unplug it by hacking the organization.

A question about what the BBC is doing for its global community. Locke answers that the funding situation is complicated because BBC worldwide is a commercial enterprise, while the work he does is funded by the UK constituency. One of his goals for open innovation is to use their impact as a buyer to encourage innovation in the UK. At the BBC he has big demand lever that he hopes he can encourage a flourishing of businesses in the UK

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