“Change takes time, but it is worth it”

Renée Barbilion
Ynnovator at the Municipality of Smallingerland (the Netherlands)

If you think about someone with a lot of passion and innovative energy, Renée would definitely be someone to come to mind. She became Ynnovator in March 2020 and is a fairly new participant to the Ynnovators Network in the Netherlands. 

Although Rénee is freshly trained as Ynnovator, she has a lot of experience both within the government as the business sector. She is a generalist, who likes taking on new challenges and who likes to challenge the organization. No surprise that Renée and Ynnovate were like a match made in heaven when she first got introduced to the Ynnovate approach.

Renée, tell us: who are you and what is your story?

I am what you might call an out-of-the-box kind of person. One of my main talents is helping others to find the right track or angle. Being curious and creative makes it easy for me not to view a problem as a problem but as a challenge. I am 55 years old, but I keep developing, learning, and exploring. That keeps me young!

I work for the municipality of Smallingerland for 9 years now. I started as a senior communications advisor, and I am now a project manager and (innovation) facilitator. In total, I have more than 20 years in the local government under my belt. Before working at the municipality, I worked within private businesses. Actually, I had all sorts of different jobs. I am a generalist and I am always looking for a new challenge.

“Being curious and creative makes it easy for me to view a problem as a challenge”

Renée is implementing environmentally-oriented working in the organization. This is all about how to make the best possible use of the knowledge and wishes of stakeholders (outside and inside) at your work. It covers working out of intention and then determining what is needed. Initially, it was conceived as a project, but it is broader and it is part of a culture change.

Recently, the municipality has been through a reorganization. The aim was to design a new organization that works from trust and personal leadership.

Renee explains: “We have new management in the organization that really designed this bottom-up. It was very innovative to initiate together with employees from all levels of the organization. But actually, changing an organization, the culture in an organization is very difficult. It always starts with the perception of necessity. It takes a long time, needs constant attention, and a lot of work. And of course, we also have to do our work for the community. It is hard to stay away from old habits. Doing things top-down can be a pitfall when you try to go (too) fast. Change really takes time, but it is worth it!”

What innovation challenges do you encounter in your work?

We started the movement #inmotion (or #inbeweging, in Dutch). Last year, our main innovation challenge was helping our colleagues to connect effectively with each other and with their community, since everything was online. We had to learn to use platforms like Zoom and Teams. In these situations, it is very tempting to hold meetings in the “old” way, but that doesn’t work. An online meeting needs to be much more interactive to keep the energy up.

Another very important challenge we currently face is to involve other stakeholders (colleagues, inhabitants, companies, etc.) more and better in our policymaking. This relates to the new role of the civil servant in general. How do you connect? As civil servants, we tend to look at rules and regulations, instead of considering the story behind the questions from our inhabitants or stakeholders. So, what we do now is helping our colleagues by offering our assistance, training, and setting an example.

“As civil servants, we tend to look at rules and regulations, instead of considering the story behind the questions”

It isn’t easy to organize a new way of working. There is a reflex to bounce back to the old situation. However, there are a lot of opportunities as well. We now have walking meetings where we go outside while we discuss issues. And there are so much more (online) methods to make work better, more enjoyable, and a little bit more fun.

Why did you decide to follow the Ynnovate Training?

Last year, when I got the assignment to get started on my project of working environmentally-oriented, I was looking for a method to facilitate such new ways of working. I strongly believe that you have to experience a method yourself first before you implement it in the organization. That’s why I wanted to learn the Ynnovate method and explore Deep Democracy. Participating in those trainings was a way to discover if we could apply these techniques in our organization.

After finishing the Ynnovate Training, I can only recommend it! I first learned about Ynnovate via LinkedIn, as I was looking for something that could work within the government. It’s important to work with an approach and people that understand how the government works. Next to that, the Ynnovate Training also got recommended by other Ynnovators in my network.

Renée in front of a screen with the Ynnovate Idea Killers

What has the Ynnovate method changed for you when it comes to innovation?

First of all, I am now part of a large network. And I have a lot of knowledge about innovation and facilitating innovation processes. It made me study design thinking more as well. From a very practical point of view, we were also able to work with Mural through Ynnovate. That’s great because we didn’t have an online brainstorming tool.

Through Ynnovate we are able to make people enthusiastic about solving problems or as we prefer to say: facing challenges. I think that is rather special. At the moment, I have facilitated one complete innovation workshop using the Ynnovate method, and there a few more in the pipeline. As every challenge is different, we always offer custom-made solutions, so sometimes we use a mix of methods.

My first time facilitating an innovation workshop using the Ynnovate approach was quite exciting. We were all working from home due to COVID-19, so we organized the innovation workshop online. We used Mural as our online whiteboard and the Ynnovate Toolbox with all the digital innovation techniques. It was challenging because there were participants in the workshop that hadn’t worked with Mural before. And of course, most people didn’t know the Ynnovate method at all.

The challenge we wanted to solve was: How might we get colleagues enthusiastic to share their ideas and projects connected to the organization’s development? It was a great workshop. The participants liked it very much and there were a lot of great ideas which we also presented to the management afterward for follow-up. I was very happy with the end result!

Which working method (s) do you regularly use in your work and what are the benefits?

One lesson I immediately learned from my first online innovation workshop is that online innovation is much more challenging. It’s very different and more difficult than when you are physically together as a team. That’s why it is super important to use the right energizers. Energy is essential when you are creating ideas together!
I also think that all techniques that use associating are very nice innovation techniques. Sometimes you get stuck in your thinking. I like using the Ynnovate card sets. Thinking about a problem using the perspective of another person or company really helps you to broaden your perspective.

The Ynnovate method works! But you do have to make sure you have a good program when you facilitate an innovation workshop. Including good energizers! Make sure to plan enough time to be able to take breaks. As we kept saying to our participants: “don’t worry it won’t go wrong, but it might be different than you expect”. This helped us to lower the threshold, especially for people who are not used to working with our online tools.

What is your ultimate tip for anyone that wants to innovate?

My most important advice is to not get discouraged by people who are not that innovative. Just believe in yourself, go and do it, and show others that it is possible. Have fun with it, that’s what gets you the best results.

Another important tip is to create a ripple effect. That way, you will get other people selling the innovation approach for you. As soon as others are enthusiastic and share their story about it, you will benefit from that. This also means that you should look for others in the organization who want to get started with innovation. That is how you help each other.

We started using the Ynnovate method as we were in lockdown due to Covid-19. Even though a pandemic is a terrible thing to happen, it did help us to innovate faster. As I said earlier: change takes time, but when it is necessary and it is perceived to be necessary, people are more likely to embrace change! Wanting = willing.


Connect with Renée on Linkedin

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *