When are you ever not prototyping?

I’m co-hosting an event at the forthcoming Fire Starter Festival.  We want to ignite conversations about learning-in-action to stimulate thinking about how evaluation practices might flourish to promote learning and innovation.

We put prototyping in the title as a deliberate provocation.  The term is used a lot – thanks in large part to the work of Ulab Scotland  Prototyping translates an idea or a concept into experimental action.  We like this idea of tentativeness, of uncertainty about whether or how something might work and for whom and of being open to being surprised or wrong.   In public programmes, we’re often very committed to cherished ideas and initiatives, especially when something seems so self-evidently ‘worthwhile’.  This word of warning from Gervase Bushe is helpful:

“In prototyping, it is important that people do not fall in love with an idea too early, so that they are still able to go to the stakeholder with an open mind and heart.  They need to be flexible and ready to hear the others’ experience of and reaction to the prototype.”

With this in mind, I’m especially interested in the idea of Living Labs – where ideas and innovations are tested out and refined in real-life contexts.  These experiments start in small, quiet ways, with practitioners who are working with real issues.  How can we make these practices more widespread?  Where does the evidence we already have about ‘what works’ sit alongside emerging new insights?

At the event, our intention is to focus on the future and to provoke discussion amongst us about how we can align our values of participation, collaboration and appreciation with our thinking and practice about evidence to recognise what is working well and to make the impact that is needed.  There are still a few places and we hope to appeal to anyone with an interest in how to create better public services.  Sign up here.

We also hope that this event will lead to a series of ‘Touch Papers’ to continue and broaden this dialogue and develop ideas about “5th generation evaluation” which will develop collaborative and appreciative new practice-oriented evaluation approaches and methods. Do get in touch if you want to contribute.


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