Financing consistent innovation in education

Financing consistent innovation in education

by Peter West

Innovation is a modern buzzword. Leaders of a broad range of organisations, including educational institutions, regularly pepper it into speeches, articles and conversations.

Yet, is it financed as the priority that media headlines and articles indicate it should be? Headlines such as:

  • Why innovation is crucial to your organization's long-term success
  • The important of innovation and its crucial role in growth, survival and success of organizations
  • Importance of innovation and change within an organization
  • The nature and importance of innovation

The recent Covid19 pandemic and its devastating effect on traditional education have reinforced the need for educational organisations to be able to better modify business models and adapt to changes to achieve better services.

“Innovation isn’t solely represented by new devices, ideas or methods, but also by the process of uncovering new ways to do things. It can also pertain to modifying business models and adapting to changes to achieve better products and services.”

Key questions regarding innovation

Here are some fundamental questions.

1. Who in your organisation is driving innovation? Is it an individual or dedicated team who has innovation and keeping up to date with modern educational advances as their role or a key part of their role? Or is it ad hoc, and left to the ‘lone innovators’ who are interested in technology-enhanced education and fit it in around their normal teaching duties?

If it is the latter, the organisation isn’t keeping up. It is paying lip service to the idea and is riding on the coattails of dedicated professionals. The leadership of the organisation is abdicating responsibility.

2. If you have an innovator or innovation team, are they empowered? Do they have the authority to introduce change?

3. Do they have a budget to explore new ideas and technologies?

4. And here’s the one that is often forgotten. Is there an organisational budget to introduce change? I am not talking about the Principal’s discretionary fund that the innovator has to beg to use. I am talking about money set aside in the annual budget for the introduction and implementation of newly discovered innovative ideas and/or technologies .


It takes time, effort, vision and money to keep abreast with improvements in our modern world, and organisations need to be agile (another buzzword that is used by many leaders now). Yet we often have organisational funds tied up in immobile annual budgets that are planned months before each new financial year. These budgets are then locked in for twelve months, making it extremely difficult to be ‘agile’.

Focus areas

If there is a budget for innovation , does it cover all aspects of the innovation? Innovation to use technology to enhance education is much more than simply purchasing the hardware, software or cloud-based service. In my experience, that is the easy part. Three aspects need to be allowed for.

1. Choosing, purchasing and installing the hardware, software or cloud-based service.

2. Training staff how to use the technology.

3. Training staff to teach more effectively using the technology. This is very different to point 2.

In my experience, most effort is required in Point 3. Training staff how to teach more effectively using the technology.

Once again, from experience and ‘gut feel’ and without any time-based research, I estimate the amount of effort required for each of the points above is

1. 10 to 20%

2. 10 to 20%

3. 60 to 80%

Innovation isn’t fiscally uniform – or predictable

Innovation doesn’t fit a predictable fiscal pattern no matter what the finance department would like. Each school or educational organisation is also different, and thus the amount needed in this innovation budget is up to the individual organisation. If the budget isn’t expended in a particular year yet the organisation is moving ahead, it should not affect the budget for the following year. Being efficient, effective and frugal should be rewarded rather than punished by reducing the budget for the following year. Otherwise, it leads to the situation where people rush to buy ‘stuff’ (anything that looks impressive but may not have been researched effectively) just to use the funds so that the budget isn’t cut the following year.

Who knows what will be required by the organisation the following year? Innovation doesn’t follow the traditional fiscal rules of regular, consistent expenditure.

I know some people will say that this approach isn’t realistic; it isn’t possible. However, anything is possible if it is seen as a priority. How many have seen money and resources suddenly appear for a pet project of someone high up in an organisation?

Reactive or proactive?

Which is better?

The sudden rush to change and find funds as we have seen many organisations do in response to the Covid19 crisis and the sudden need for remote teaching and learning?

Or being one of the organisations that allocated funds and implemented technology-enhanced learning consistently over several years, and was prepared for the forced introduction of remote teaching and learning?

Which would you (and your students and parents) prefer?

  • Panic and a rushed sub-optimal response (no matter how necessary and heroic, with already time poor teachers hurriedly creating a wide range of extra resources and rushing to learn new skills) or
  • a calm, measured extension of a rich, well developed online learning ecosystem

- created with forethought over many years

- supported by years of deliberate innovation

- with staff well trained in the use of technology

- and supported by years of staff training in teaching effectively by leveraging technology while retaining the best of the ‘human’ aspects of traditional education.

It is just a choice; one that educational leaders should consider.

Peter West currently leads a Learning Technologies Team in a ‘Digital Lab’ that explores new learning technologies for a leading VET organisation. Previously he was Director of eLearning at a very successful independent school on the Gold Coast, Australia. He has been leading educational organisations in all aspects of technology-enhanced learning for over twenty years. He can be contacted at [email protected] and