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TikTok and organisational innovation during COVID-19


17 June 2020 at 4:52 pm
Doug Taylor
Doug Taylor shares three important lessons that Uniting has learnt about innovating rapidly in response to a crisis.


Doug Taylor | 17 June 2020 at 4:52 pm


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TikTok and organisational innovation during COVID-19
17 June 2020 at 4:52 pm

Doug Taylor shares three important lessons that Uniting has learnt about innovating rapidly in response to a crisis.

Like many parents at home during COVID, I have been co-opted into creating some TikTok videos with my daughter. These were captured on camera, but I have been assured they will never see the light of day (well that’s what I was told!).

It didn’t surprise me to see some of our programs with young people go online during lockdown and use TikTok and other tools to continue engagement. 

One example is the Young Mates Place, a website and social media pages made specifically by young people in Nambucca on the North Coast where Uniting NSW & ACT has been investing in some place making. 

Local young mate Carly, from year 10, held an online “how to” TikTok tutorial and, along with the team, set the challenge for the best dressed dance, with the winner taking away a $50 prize.  

Joy, the winner of the best dressed dance challenge.

Joy, the winner of the best dressed dance challenge.

But the Young Mates Place also became a virtual youth hub – offering exercise classes, cooking classes, gardening sessions and even art and craft – as well as linking people to services they may need.   

The Place has engaged an estimated 500 young people across all platforms, which is pretty good for a small community. And it may be here to stay, even if the threat of COVID-19 subsides.

This is one of a number of innovative practices we have identified that Uniting has developed in response to COVID. They include things like Stroll and Roll, a supported playgroup that has developed a takeaway resource service in Taree that’s reached new people; Boredom Busters, a program in our Supported Independent Living program for people with a disability who cannot access day programs; Seniors Gyms going on line; and Residential Aged Care developing new entertainment programs and using technology to keep up social contact for residents with families.

Maybe we should have been doing some of these things before COVID hit and it would be great to see some of these practices continue, particularly if it means we are reaching new people in new ways. 

In the course of this we have learnt some important lessons about innovating rapidly in a not for profit in response to a crisis. I was able to share these in a recent webinar on social innovation as part of the Centre for Social Impact’s impact2020. Here are my three takeaways:

1. The teams that adapted quickly all had two sources for their innovation

Like the Young Mates example, our most innovative teams had established means to hear the voice of the community and clients which means they could use this to generate and validate ideas quickly. Other teams also had processes in place to glean insights from frontline workers. Some teams had developed regular “think tanks” as a way to test new ideas quickly before implementation. 

This reminds me of the research from the Give Easy Innovation Index for the not-for-profit sector which consistently finds that organisations preference internal sources of innovation over external sources such as beneficiaries and other organisations. Perhaps we need to turn outward and look more to our frontline teams. 

2. Our organisation had to “dance” differently  

In a meeting recently, I told a group that innovating at Uniting was like making an elephant dance (it’s a little clumsy and risky, but possible). COVID continues to be enormously challenging but we have learnt how to be more nimble.

We have learnt that not everyone has been able to respond and drive new ways of working, but we need the conditions for intrapreneurs because there have been a good number of people who have stepped up in this crisis and led the way. We are thinking through how best to support them and harness those skills when they are scattered right across the organisation. 

We have also learnt that there is an important role for leaders in this work. I’m reminded of that quote about innovating in an organisation: all you need are two people, an intrapreneur and a leader who gives permission. There’s work for us to do with our leaders in balancing out their focus on risk and business management with giving space for some of their team to innovate. An example of this is the different approach from “head office”, whereby we empowered teams by creating an online platform for sharing and resourcing new ideas and not creating bottlenecks for approval.

3. There are some insights for our current innovation program

Our experience of innovating during the pandemic has challenged our typical way of innovating and raises some good questions like: will there be more scope for replication through technology and why hasn’t it featured in our practice to date? Will there be more appetite for lower cost solutions that are more flexible and have greater reach but perhaps not with the same level of quality? How do we balance the need for speed, rigour and getting the right mix of evidence and client voices? 

It’s critical that we be intentional about what we keep or discard from this experience in terms of the innovations along the way. We shouldn’t assume that things will inevitably improve, it requires intentionality (leadership) in our organisations and collectively for social change. 


Doug Taylor  |  @ProBonoNews

Doug Taylor is director of mission, communities and social impact at Uniting NSW and ACT.

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