it has been an extremely rewarding experience where we have been able to learn from cutting-edge innovation from the private sector, which has had a real tangible benefit on public sector delivery

DfE Policy Lead


Last year, Daniel Mueller and I were invited to become UK Government Innovation Fellows. The Innovation Fellowship, modelled on the Presidential Innovation Fellowship launched under Barack Obama and sponsored by the Cabinet Office, aimed to “allow Government to second in digital, data and technology practitioners to create solutions to high profile policy challenges”.

For this pilot of the fellowship, we worked with the Department for Education (DfE), to help them harness digital innovation and new business models to tackle how schools buy. The current situation had become unsustainable, with the schools sector in England spending almost £10bn per annum on non staff categories, covering areas ranging from pencils and pens through to catering services and grounds maintenance. This was occurring in a climate of shrinking budgets and a “broken” market in which suppliers were charging an “education premium” to schools and benefiting from opacity of information and prices. The fragmented and diverse school buyer set worsened the issue, with practices highly varied between schools.

The Fellowship gave us a wonderful opportunity to explore our hypothesis; that our approach to innovation through harnessing new business models, through rapid cycles of testing and learning in market and through looking outside-in to solve novel challenges would be just as relevant in the public sector as to any of our private sector clients. We quickly busted any myths about the public sector – our client team were some of the most passionate, committed and open groups we’ve ever worked with. They had been burnt by taking large, traditional, IT-led approaches to try to solve this before and knew that succeeding in this sector needed something different. They embraced our approach, believing that we could achieve higher engagement and better value for money.

Over a 12 week process, we engaged heavily with schools and suppliers, applied Inzenka “smash and grab” methodology and “business model innovation” approaches to create novel and engaging digital buying tools which would deliver on the promise of transparency to fix the broken market and deliver better value for schools. In aggregate, these tools could deliver significant cost savings as well as reduce the administrative and time burden on schools, ultimately enabling better pupil outcomes. By week 3 we were testing early mockups with schools and by week 8 we had prototypes that brought the end-to-end user journey to life and demonstrated how the savings would be generated. By the end of the 12 weeks, we had a full, validated business case together with suppliers and schools highly engaged and volunteering to be part of a pilot. This work supports and delivers on a key pillar of the recently published Schools’ Buying Strategy

We’ve since been invited back to run training and coaching sessions for the DfE and the Cabinet Office, to help ensure skills transfer and improve the Government Digital Service’s (GDS) methodology for “Discovery” projects. We’re looking forward to supporting DfE as they move to pilot, refine and scale the new digital buying tools and to bring our unique approach to innovation to the wider public sector.

“Inzenka provided a huge amount of expertise and innovative thinking we would not have otherwise had access to in the department. They brought in-depth insight into concepts and techniques developed in the private sector which could be transferred to our work. For example, they encouraged us to engage with examples ranging from, to Amazon, to Uber in an initial ‘ideation’ session to kick the project off. This meant we considered options (or ‘propositions’) for our tools far beyond what we had thought of in the department. They also used insight from firms such as Facebook to take us through the engagement process through which we can build a critical mass of support for our products amongst schools.

Inzenka also brought considerable expertise and innovation in their approach to user engagement. For one of their user validation sessions one of our Director Generals, Deputy Directors and I were able to join to learn from the experience. We found it incredibly enlightening, particularly how Inzenka were able to test a large amount of detail and different concepts through relatively simple mock ups and wire frames.

As well as providing me with valuable insight to help develop the project itself, Inzenka have also been able to share their knowledge more widely in the department, for example with our internal Design Authority.

All in all, it has been an extremely rewarding experience where we have been able to learn from cutting-edge innovation from the private sector, which has had a real tangible benefit on public sector delivery”