Open innovation with Save the Children


It’s important for agency and brand partners to perpetually explore how to leverage existing technology in innovative ways, and emerging technology in practical ways. It can be harder for larger organisations to innovate, with a strategic focus on ‘what works’ and a lack of resource focused on learning & experimenting. We believe that brands and agencies have huge potential benefit from innovating together. We run a range of innovation work streams including hacks, sprints and R&D, whilst also exploring new ways to best come together and solve problems otherwise unsolvable on our own.

Together with the Head of Innovation at Save the Children, we found a great opportunity to stretch our innovative legs, and importantly, innovate for social good. This is a short story of our work with Save the Children, exploring open innovation, a version of design thinking, creative innovation sprints, prototyping and more system thinking.

The context: Save the Children’s mission

Hundreds of thousands of children in the UK start school with delays in their language development. Evidence shows that children who start behind stay behind, and they’re much less likely to do well in school or succeed in the world of work. Often these are children from the poorest households. Save the Children (in partnership with the National Literacy Trust) has been on a mission to change this, taking a behavioural 'nudge' approach to encouraging parents to carry out more of the simple, everyday interactions which can boost children’s communication skills. At its most basic they want to increase the number of words and quality interactions that children are exposed to during their early years.

The story so far

Throughout 2017 and early 2018, Save the Children designed and tested a set of interventions that go with the grain of family life and incorporate small prompts to parents to tune in and talk with their babies and children during key moments in the day. For example, they created a product that encourages parents to chat to their babies while they change nappies. They designed and trialled these proofs of concept to learn if families like and respond to them.

As Save the Children grow the initiative, they’re looking to open the challenge to a much wider range of people and talents to explore how to can create and scale ideas that interact with families in a myriad of ways, and which offer different routes to market and change at scale.

Multi-disciplinary, open innovation

The team at Save engage with a range of people who influence families' lives in different ways - brands, retailers, local networks, home environments, digital and media to name a few. Engaging with these partners helps Save to build on proofs of concept, collect insights about behaviours, and draw on others' different but complementary skill sets and perspectives to design products/services/environments which can reach a larger number of families and make a positive impact.

Creative Innovation Sprinting

This was an ideal opportunity to combine Save’s insights about the lives of low income families and about children's early development with Toaster’s experience in creative ideas, emerging technologies, and innovative approach. The Creative Innovation Sprint format allowed us to bring teams together to not just think differently but act differently, improving the likelihood of getting traction with new ideas and exploring how we could add value and remove pain in new ways. Ultimately, our objective is to test and learn what would be more likely to reach the objectives outlined, this format makes it easier to get to that point quicker.

Over a three day sprint we were able to:

  • Delve into our collective knowledge and assumptions about daily family life and people's relationship with technology

  • Articulate and explore the different 'pain points' we might best be placed to address with the unique blend of resources between the organisations

  • Introduce a variety of talent and skill sets - that are not traditionally involved at brief exploration stage

Allowing the time to interrogate and agree on a brief in a collaborative way was extremely helpful. It allowed us to augment the teams’ collective understanding of the challenges we set out to address through applying a new lens. The interactive sessions, that facilitated co-briefing, provided a focus to the creative work stream and process. We established values that included the promotion of psychological safety, respect of roles, a focus on learning and experimentation, and prioritising the acquisition of new perspectives created. These values played a part in helping us collectively create familiar yet new ideas.

The outcomes

Collectively both Save the Children and Toaster were thrilled with the outcomes which included:

  • Simple and adaptable ideas, applicable in the here and now but nodding to future human interactions with technology

  • Ideas sensitive to the cultural, social and behavioural context of the initiative, charity and market

  • Accelerated learning of insights and understanding of technology and the core audience we aim to support

  • The articulation of new challenges and placement of existing challenges in a new light

  • Creating ideas that began to address multiple challenges in alternative ways

  • Without realising it, bringing together individual ideas, that were previously explored but did not get traction, into a single concept that become more feasible.

The outputs & work are now subject to further conversation and iteration, so watch this space.

Co-authored by:

Haidee Bell, Head of Innovation, Save the Children and

Ben Cheston, Partnerships Director, Toaster