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Learning History supports innovation projects

Innovation projects and change projects in organizations are often complex in nature. In everyday practice, it is often the case that too little emphasis is placed on learning from problems, as well as from successes. TNO uses the Learning History instrument to improve the quality and effectiveness of innovation projects and change projects.

Changes and innovations place great demands on organizations and people. An understanding of the issues encountered by these projects, and of the lessons learned by everyone involved, can provide a very useful support on how to tackle new activities. Together with the stakeholders, TNO has drawn up a Learning History to support this process. Here, it is not just the end result (usually a booklet or a memorandum) that counts, the joint process required to achieve this is also important. This often provides a useful frame of reference that can be used to fine-tune a project.

Form and effect

A Learning History describes an innovation project using story-telling techniques. The "power of storytelling" is used to convey learning experiences. This approach does not involve reciting lists of success factors and failure factors, which often turn out to be fairly obvious. Instead, events are described in context, helping the reader to understand why a given innovation project "is going the way it is". A Learning History contains three layers. The first layer consists of actual events, and the second of people's perceptions (the same events, as seen through the eyes of those involved). The third layer is made up of critical questions and comments (regarding these perceptions and events) from independent experts. These are intended to get the stakeholders thinking. It is important that the final version of the Learning History be discussed with the stakeholders. This is an opportunity for group reflection.

An example ...

TNO has used this tool on many occasions during the past five years. It has also adapted the tool for clients such as the Ministry of Economic Affairs, NL Agency, the City of Amsterdam, the CATO innovation programme, and the Energy Neutral Areas (GEN) programme. TNO used two Learning Histories to encapsulate the learning experiences acquired during the latter programme. GEN has been running since 2011. It involves a consortium of 10 major innovative companies, all associated with the construction industry. Through the use of interdisciplinary cooperation in everyday practice, this programme was designed to demonstrate the feasibility of creating energy neutral areas. The programme has focused on two areas in everyday practice: Valkenburg (a new construction development at Katwijk) and Kerschoten (an existing neighbourhood at Apeldoorn). The programme was particularly innovative, due to the government's new management philosophy, which assigns innovation initiatives to the market and to local stakeholders.


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