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Core Education case study

Building an innovative culture:
CORE's creative thinking gets support from a Jade-run program.

Innovation Services at CORE.

  • 'He Kākano' design and program execution
  • Consulting services

Sowing innovative seeds at CORE Education

When you’re committed to changing what’s possible in education, innovation is invaluable. With Jade’s help CORE Education’s clever thinking fuels a visible, rewarding culture of innovation.

In the education sector, improvements can change lives. Better forms of professional learning, content development, or research all make a big difference for teachers and learners at every level. For that, thank organisations like CORE Education and its mission to expand educational boundaries.

Changing the future is everyday work for Christina Ward, Senior Manager - Innovation. Her innovation strategy affects all of CORE’s 200 people in Christchurch, Wellington, and Auckland offices, as well as a number of remote locations.

"We’re developing an educational landscape for the future, not for the past.”

Ali Hughes
CEO, CORE Education

In-house innovation

“We attract creative, boundary-pushing people,” Christina says. “Our people have great ideas.” But what next? After the lightbulb moment you need what CORE CEO Ali Hughes calls “a mechanism or process to support good ideas.”

So, in 2015, Christina invited everyone at CORE to submit ideas to fuel new projects. The company duly got excited about innovation, at least at first. “Once we started working on projects, there was no longer this buzz. We had some success and saw some enthusiasm, but we knew we could improve our structures and processes.”

Enter a new approach, introduced by Jade.

“I was really impressed by the range of ideas across the areas in which we work, and also the depth of thinking. They weren’t just good ideas; they’d been well researched.”

The Thinkubator

Eight weeks, thirteen teams, lasting change 

It’s a team-based challenge, run over two months. It builds productive connections between people and inspires them to get creative. It’s the structure that CORE was looking for. To make a real splash, the program launched with its own identity and website. CORE branded it He Kākano - a seed metaphor. Visual branding from Jade’s design team carried through the competition’s digital and physical collateral. 

He Kākano - a competitor’s view

One entrant was Sakthi Ranganathan, a graphic designer who had been on sabbatical studying Human Interface Technology. “It was a good time to come back. Here was a wonderful opportunity to use what I’ve been doing at HIT Lab [Canterbury University] and contribute something back to CORE.”

I had three ideas, and spoke to quite a few people. We saw an opportunity, and had meetings, phone calls, and emails to see if people from different locations were interested.” Conversations like these built buzz throughout CORE. Sakthi’s team proposed using virtual reality (VR) to give school kids ‘out of class’ learning experiences. He brought the VR expertise with teammates specialising in instructional design, digital information, content coordination, and program direction.

Teams had two weeks to create a digital pitch to the entire company. Sakthi’s team brainstormed together, then took on jobs that matched their different skills. “Everyone contributed,” he says. Meanwhile, other teams proposed everything from improvements to foreign language teaching to new collaboration tools for CORE staff. As a broad-based idea generator, He Kākano hit the mark.

Bringing the company together

Each team submitted a video or presentation, then the entire company was invited to vote for their favourites. In the final, a few days later, top-voted teams would deliver a live Dragons’ Den-style pitch to expert judges from Jade, CORE, and organisations like Callaghan Innovation. Around half the staff voted over two days. Getting new ideas heard around the company was one of the program’s most effective aspects.

Sakthi’s team made the final. The room in Christchurch was full, with the other offices joining in remotely - proof of the innovation buzz that Christina wants to foster. The judges assessed short pitches from each finalist (looking for novelty, commercial potential and fit to CORE’s business) and duly chose Sakthi’s VR concept as the inaugural He Kākano winner.

From a short competition to a long-lasting culture

But prizes and trophies aren’t the end. Christina says that CORE is already moving forward with four of the entries, while an innovation panel will consider the rest. Senior leaders were quick to talk with the winners. Without He Kākano, Sakthi says that “it would be difficult to get an opportunity like this.”

As ideas turn into projects and eventually new products, processes or services, the entire CORE team will see inventive thinking, spurred by He Kākano, lead to real change. The chance to present ideas to peers and leaders is a crucial first step. “Some people are comfortable taking their ideas anywhere, but many of them won’t unless they’re invited or encouraged to,” Christina explains. She also says that He Kākano formed new partnerships between people, helping build an environment that supports innovation.

The importance of the right framework

By adopting a proven framework from an established innovator, He Kākano delivered stronger results than CORE’s earlier incubator. Ali says: “Working with Jade was a really positive experience, right from our initial conversations. We think very similarly about innovation. Jade brought us the structure, which would have taken a lot longer if we’d done it ourselves. He Kākano has given us a much clearer framework.”

Christina Ward is impressed, too:

“We wanted to make a buzz, and bring more energy to the creativity that we knew was there. We wanted to make it more visible. Innovation has definitely become more of a talking point at CORE.” 

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