D7.1 Best Practice Guidelines – Driving the widespread adoption of technology for learning in SMEs

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Executive Summary

Work package 7 is the principal driver of scaling Learning Layers technology and service innovations to SMEs and key actors in the regional value networks. It also plays a central role in creating the right conditions to support and maintain the factors that drive these innovations. Our strategies of scaling up and sustainability are framed by an open innovation approach that has the ability to mobilise the resources and stimulating forces necessary to drive widespread adoption of technology-enabled learning at work. The implementation of these strategies further depends on activities around stakeholder engagement, offering development, business models, and regional clusters. The work package has also a key role in providing a crucial link to the application context for design and technology development elsewhere in the project. In all our activities, we have attempted to link more formal desk based and action research to practical guidelines, actions and initiatives, some of which are already at a well developed stage and others remaining nascent or aspirational for future development.

Scaling up is as much about creating the organisational conditions that help generate sustained changes in learning and organisational practices as it is about reaching a large number of adopters and change agents. Scaling in Learning Layers takes the technologies and practices we develop at our application partner sites and makes them work at different locations, settings, and contexts. This process is supported by a stakeholder engagement strategy that helps us mobilise organisational multipliers such as vocational training centres, business networks, communities of practice, and managed clusters, and channels our efforts to create a sustained impact in the regions. Our work on business models and service innovation provides an organisational framework that allows us to think through, communicate, and shape the value creation opportunities of technology-enabled training and skills development for organisations and organisational networks in and across our target regions.

In Learning Layers, we are working with application partners in two pilot regions, Northern Germany and Yorkshire. The project also stipulates that we need to extend our work beyond these regions and scale to a greater number of SMEs and regional actors, and thereby create a more significant impact with our innovations. While we are exploring a number of opportunities to engage with organisations in our target sectors outside the pilot regions, our scaling strategy is also introducing managed clusters and cluster organisations as a scaling mechanism that has great potential. We are currently working towards engaging regional clusters and cluster development agencies in our scaling activities. This work with regional actors is important for the project in two ways. It engages and prepares key stakeholders for adoption of Learning Layers learning tools and approaches, and it helps us explore and gauge more accurately the needs and problems that these stakeholders are faced with and bring those aspects to bear on our designs.

The focus of our work in healthcare are the GP practices, or medical centres – almost all SMEs – who provide primary care to the public in the English National Health Service. With a continual drive for improvements in practice and patient care, it is crucial that the GP practices and other organisations in this system are able to share good practice and innovations. In the Learning Layers healthcare work we are focusing on supporting the informal learning and Continuing Professional Development (CPD) that registered healthcare professionals have a responsibility to undertake in order to keep their skills and knowledge up to date, improve practices and solve new problems. A key aim is to ensure that ownership and management of processes and solutions developed by the Learning layers project is taken up by both organisational and clinical leadership. In the context of our scaling work and following a large-scale NHS reorganisation in April 2013, the opportunity arose to use the newly created Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCG) and the Commissioning Support Unit (CSU) that link GP practices and other NHS actors as scaling partners.

The focus of our work in construction is training centres, SMEs and craft and industry organisations in north Germany. The construction sector accounts for over 4,6 % of the gross domestic product in Germany. The building and construction industry is an important provider of initial vocational training providing 37,200 training contracts in 2011. Compared to other industries such as manufacturing, construction has the lowest rate of innovation. However new technologies and materials are increasingly being introduced in the sector.

Work in year one of the project has focused on the use of technology for initial vocational training at the BauABC training centre, developing the potential to link the training centre with vocational schools and companies, improve the transfer of work based knowledge and develop new services. Work has also been undertaken with the network for ecological construction work (in particular with its major exhibition) as an anchor point for engaging with partner enterprises in the craft trades.

Clusters are an important tool in our scaling strategy, and we can learn and gain practical insights into our pilot regions through studying the concepts and practices surrounding cluster organisations and cluster management. A special but not exclusive focus of our scaling work outside the pilot regions is on managed clusters, where a dedicated management team organises and facilities activities between members of the cluster. While the notion of clusters is contested, a common feature is that they cultivate trust and facilitate collaborations among a variety of key regional actors, including SMEs, large firms, secondary and higher education institutions, public agencies, investors, and so on.

Our work on managed clusters in year one had both a conceptual and a practical focus. The literature on clusters and innovation provides us with important insights into our pilot regions and sets a frame and a reference point for our own research. Moreover, we have moved towards a position that sees training and skills development services as a key revenue source that allows the often fragile clusters to become financially sustainable. We have progressed on developing a conceptual basis for a service perspective on cluster and inter-cluster organisations, which is rather weak at the moment. On a more practical side we have had numerous conversations with cluster managers, regional development agencies, and researchers testing some of the newer aspects of our approach. We have also working with one of our application partners and with a national innovation agency on developing and implementing some of these service ideas around Learning Layers tools and practices.

Stakeholder engagement is seen as an active tool for scaling up the project activities and outcomes and working towards sustainability through developing an understanding and dialogue with the different stakeholders, their interests and desires. The project has looked at different models of Stakeholder Engagement especially open innovation and customer development, and how different ‘offerings; can facilitate active engagement with key stakeholder groups.

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