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Hacking for Change

BMNT will start two new programmes to facilitate innovation: Norway and the UK


On 30 April, MONCh published an article discussing the application of BMNT’s innovative process, H4X, to the US Office for Naval Research (ONR) in order to facilitate the development of innovation within the US Navy. A significant part of this process aims at linking innovative start-ups with decision-makers within the defence sector, helping them in the process to break down big problems and identify where and how these can be solved through innovation.

Eight months later, MONCh spoke to Peter Newell, retired Army Colonel, former head of the Army’s Rapid Equipping Force and Managing Partner at BMNT, as well as Dr Alison Hawks and Tom Nelson, both of BMNT, to find out how BMNT and Hacking for Defence (the university version of H4X, referred to as “H4D”) are extending its programmes to serve an ever-growing spectrum of customers.

Concerning the Naval Innovation Process Adoption (NIPA) programme, currently looking at innovation within the ONR, Mr Newell noted that within its first year of implementation H4X has already spurred significant efforts on the part of the navy in terms of refocusing the organisation and applying the innovation pipeline to both the activities and the contracting process to support innovation (see here for more detailed information on NIPA). “We have seen contracting officers, lawyers and acquisition officials all sitting side by side problem solving the innovation system for the navy,” Mr Newell told MONCh. “We are watching them make changes to policies and regulations that will better enable them to actually increase skills across the navy.”

The success of the innovation pipeline approach is evident not only through the slow but significant changes one can witness within the Department of Defense, but also through the way BMNT is quickly extending the concept of ‘Hacking for…’ to other areas and countries.

H4D is now expanding to the UK thanks to Alison Hawks, whose team is currently discussing the programme with a number of UK government entities and universities. In 2019, H4D will undergo its first experimental year in the UK with the cooperation of King’s College London’s School of Security Studies. After an official kick-off in January with all the parties interested in participating in the programme, H4D will run its “Educators’ Course” shortly followed in April/May by two pilot courses at King’s College London, with a full semester course planned to start January 2020. “We are also working with a few other universities to see if we can get it started with them this autumn,” Dr Hawks told MONCh. Indeed, the goal is to be able to implement H4D in all 24 Russell Group universities over the next four years. The Russell Group, “represents 24 leading UK universities committed to maintaining the very best research, an outstanding teaching and learning experience and unrivalled links with business and the public sector,” according to the website.

Currently, the H4D model to be implemented in the UK is modelled off of H4D in the US. Dr Hawks noted: “This year is really about experimenting with what works from the US model and what does not that we have to augment.”

True to the core values of the BMNT ‘Hacking for…’ concept, implementation on the ground is in constant evolution to best fit the issues at stake. Dr. Hawks told MONCh that, for instance, the Educators’ Guide and the Educators’ Course have already been augmented, “to be a little bit less about the actual content and lean methodology and more about really trying to put forward the pedagogy, why it is important for the students in terms of employability and developing competitive skills for the workplace, as well as for the researchers themselves.”

Ultimately, the strategic outlook focuses on how to build eco systems around problems that can be accessed by the MoD long term. Moreover, “H4D is of particular added value for the Ministry of Defence in the UK because it gives access to a cohort of students it never otherwise would have access to recruit, giving students the opportunity to work on fascinating and challenging problems,” added Dr Hawks.

BMNT has also developed a Hacking for Allies programme that it has just started running in partnership with Norway. Mr Nelson, who is responsible for implementing the programme, told MONCh that the aim of Hacking for Allies is to train entrepreneurs from Norway to work on innovative solutions to solve problems common to the US and Norwegian Special Operation Forces (SOF). To this end, a selected number of Norwegian entrepreneurs will travel to Palo Alto, California, early next year to participate in a two-week-long entrepreneurship course, modelled after H4D albeit more intensive and condensed. As part of the programme, the entrepreneurs will be conducting interviews with the beneficiaries (Norway and US SOF) to gain a deep understanding and to validate particular problem sets in a step called ‘beneficiary discovery’. They next will rapidly iterate on minimum viable products to help guide their thinking about potential solutions. The entrepreneurs will prototype potential solutions back-in Norway, to develop their solutions further, before presenting them in Washington, DC, on 9 May during the Norwegian American Defence Industry and Homeland Security Council conference (NADIC).

The goal of Hacking for Allies is multifold,” Mr Nelson told MONCh: “(1) deploying solutions that can help solve problems common to Norwegian and US SOF; (2) training the Norwegian entrepreneurs in a new and different approach; (3) helping Norwegian entrepreneurs gain an understanding of the US defence ecosystem and enabling innovative technologies out of Norway to play a role in potential solutions with the US DoD.”

Indeed, the possibility of exchanging innovative ideas between countries remains at the heart of the ‘Hacking for …’ concept developed by BMNT. While Hacking for Allies is looking to see how Norwegian entrepreneurs may be able to help solve issues common to Norwegian and US SOF, H4D is currently running an experiment with the UK Joint Forces Command innovation hub (iHUB) where two UK defence problems will be run through the Georgetown University H4D course this coming January. “This will help us understand how US teams respond to working on non-US problems and how we can develop pathways and partnerships with allies to collaboratively work on problems,” Dr Hawks said. The cornerstone of this approach is the ‘problem sponsor’ who, “understand the problems at stake and are able to facilitate interviews between the companies that are tasked with solving the problem and potential end-users of these solutions,” Mr Nelson told MONCh. As entities in different countries are willing to become problem sponsors, this will allow for the creation of new H4D programmes, with the ultimate goal to, “expand visibility of innovative solutions that come from other parts of the world,” concluded Mr Nelson.

Dr Alex Valenti


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