Recent ASAE Foundation research shows that associations have opportunities to increase innovation effectiveness. For better results, lay a foundational plan and measure progress.
It’s a popular notion that innovation only arises from drastically out-of-the box thinking, bold risk-taking, and exploration in brand-new directions. Rules are left by the wayside. But the ASAE Foundation’s Innovation in Associations study found that successful innovation is often more methodical.
Like any other type of initiative, effective innovation needs an implementation plan, including setting goals and establishing clear ways to evaluate progress. These actions create processes that move leaders from wanting to innovate to being innovative.
Scope and Measurement
To define areas of opportunity, the study examined how associations are approaching innovation. Many research participants noted that their innovation efforts largely focused on new programs, products, and services and less commonly on operations, business models, and other areas. Their organizations were most likely to attempt to innovate in areas that would touch members and less likely to explore solutions to internal or industry-facing challenges. The task for leaders committed to innovation is to broaden the scope across the organization and include staff and industry challenges within their focus.
Most research participants said that associations are not doing as much as they could to measure innovation success. On a five-point scale, with five being “most frequent” and one being “least frequent,” participants reported that their associations were most likely to measure contribution to mission (3.98) and member satisfaction (3.76). They used measures like return on investment (2.87) and learning (2.93) far less. Adding underutilized measures can give your organization a more comprehensive view of progress toward its innovation goals.
Most research participants said that associations are not doing as much as they could to measure innovation success.
Establishing and applying an association-wide set of metrics ensures that everyone in the organization is on the same page. Measures should be comprehensive, meaning that metrics are defined for each phase of a project and can be applied to a variety of outcomes.
Setting metrics and expectations in advance also helps leaders establish the level of risk they’re willing to take before the project starts. Staff members who know that they have the freedom to fail may be more confident and creative in their work. Metrics and goals do not have to be static or rigid; they can be adjusted as initiatives evolve, but you need a starting point.
Evaluating Success—and Failure
One reason it is so important to establish goals and metrics before undertaking an innovation project is that it helps you evaluate success or failure. Both outcomes are equally important as learning opportunities. If you had clear expectations of what success would look like and then failed to meet them, your team can identify where the mark was missed to better understand why.
This process not only improves success on individual projects. It also adds to organizational knowledge about effective innovation practices, improving your association’s ability to conceptualize, plan, and implement innovation.