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Calgary Public Library (CPL) Seeks Big Ideas: CPL's very own Dragons' Den

Calgary Public Library
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Innovation Summary

The Library’s annual version of Dragons’ Den provides all library staff the opportunity to present their creative ideas in front of key decision makers. The winning idea receives $10,000 towards the cost of implementation, providing the creator the opportunity to put her unique stamp on a CPL product or service.

Innovation Leader: Ellen Humphrey, Deputy, CEO, ellen.humphrey@calgarypubliclibrary.com

Problem Statement

CPL launched its very own version of the TV show Dragons’ Den (known in the United States as Shark Tank) in June of 2011 in support of a number of items on the institutional to-do list: strengthening a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship in all parts of the library system; providing real-life opportunities for staff to hone skills in writing, presentations, critical and quick thinking, and project management; reinforcing the principles of a new project management process; trying out new technologies; and, not least, having fun. At the same time, we hoped that many ideas would come forward which could improve service for library customers, attract new users and introduce operating efficiencies. Prior to the roll out of this initiative, there were few opportunities for staff from across our large organization to get in front of key decision makers and propose an idea. Dragons’ Den was designed to solve this. It is our hope that, as this becomes an annual event, staff will become very familiar with the process and feel confident bringing their ideas forward.

Innovation

In April of 2011 a call for proposals was circulated to all library staff, under the banner, Calgary Public Library is Seeking Big Ideas! The opportunity was described as open to anyone who had “a fun, fabulous and generally awesome idea for moving the Library forward into its second century of service” [CPL is celebrating its 100th birthday in 2012]. And, as a reward the “winner” of Dragons’ Den would receive $10,000 towards the costs of implementing their big idea. In total, 28 submissions were received from staff and managers at various organizational levels. Nine proposals were chosen to be pitched in front of the “Dragons” – 3 members of the Library’s senior leadership group. The authors of shortlisted proposals were given 1 week to craft a compelling pitch of 10 minutes in length, and deliver it with passion and creative salesmanship. The quality and enthusiasm of the pitch itself was considered as part of the overall evaluation of the idea. Three lunchtime sessions of pitches were held over the course of a week. All staff were invited to attend, either physically at the Central Library’s John Dutton Theatre, or virtually through livestreaming on the Library’s channel. This was the first time the Library had used this technology and this event became a successful testing ground for future livestreaming. In addition, the Library implemented, for the first time, Live Audience Response software to poll and to find out which were staff’s favorite proposals. A “People’s Choice” award was presented after each session to the proposal with the most staff votes.

Progress

The submission made by Umashanie Reddy, Manager of Diversity Services, was chosen as a result of her great idea and the quality of her written proposal in combination with her convincing pitch. Umashanie pitched the creation of Welcome to the Calgary Public Library, a DVD with information in 18 languages for Calgary’s growing immigrant population, designed to increase new Canadians’ awareness of library resources, services and programs. Her big idea is now a reality after 6 months of hard work: Welcome to the Calgary Public Library is in the hands of local agencies serving newcomers, in every library location as well as on our website. The Library was enormously pleased at the critical thought demonstrated by all staff who presented their ideas in front of the Dragons. All presenters responded to on-the-spot questions with thoughtful, knowledgeable answers and wowed the Dragons with their polished presentation skills. The Dragons’ Den initiative was positively received by staff and created an atmosphere of excitement throughout the Library as everyone anticipated the presentations and the end result. In total we received 28 submissions from across the organization from a variety of staff at different levels. This has worked towards our goal of engaging creativity and fostering a community of innovative practices amongst our staff and encouraging innovative thought. The Library has demonstrated that in order to be truly innovative, ideas must come from all levels of the organization. The Dragons were so impressed by the quality of ideas presented that in addition to the implementation of the winning idea, other presented ideas are currently in incubation mode.