Story #1

Innovation in Youth Services

Sue was a youth worker and worked in the Children's Services Department of the local council. She is married to David, an IT sales executive.

In his mid teens, their son was expelled from school. At this point Sue and David experienced service delivery from a user's point of view for the first time. They had a difficult two years trying to engage with non-joined-up support services which were delivered in a way that suited the service deliverer more than the service user.

Sue and David thought they could do better and started to do research. They came across the Open Innovation Exchange on the web. They realised they were not alone in thinking that public services could be improved and they also realised that you could do it from 'outside' public bodies. But where to start?

The Open Innovation Exchange (OIE) Website aggregated information from all sorts of sources. You could also register and ask questions but they decided not to dive straight in. Instead, they noted that there was a local event supported by the OIE which they registered for.

At the event, the full extent of the support available became clearer. They registered on the OIE website and were able to ask questions of known experts and read the answers already provided to other registered users. As well as providing a brilliant 'just in time' source of expertise, the system enabled them to identify others with similar interests and peer to peeer exchanges also proved really helpful. They also learned of the unLtd programme and were successful in getting a £5,000 grant to release Sue from her day job for 3 months to develop her ideas.

. . . . six months later . . . .

Sue and Dave's social enterprise won a 'Respect' award from the Home Office and they have been inundated with people wanting to talk to them, visit them or run their services in different areas. They needed help.

How can they replicate their idea? How can they protect their idea? Should they just give their idea away for others to use? Is there a middle way? How can they cope with all this interest?

Again the OIE proved to be a key source of support:

  • they applied for a mentor to help them with their business plan and were given 3 to choose from
  • this mentor worked with them face to face, over the phone and online and helped them develop their plans
  • the mentor signposted them to Business Link where they got support on intellectual property and how to protect it
  • they continued to use the experts online service to great effect as they progressed from the establishment of the social enterprise through to employing people and procuring IT

But it's not all been about taking from OIE. Sue now operates (and gets paid) as one of the children's services experts within Experts Online and is considering becoming a mentor herself - she's learnt a lot!

The OIE have also approached Sue and Dave to host a 'seeing is believing' exchange visit. She will be paid to do this from the OIE Innovation Visit Fund.

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