From starting my innovation journey to co-leading innovation projects

My name is Roxy van de Langkruis, Project Coordinator at the National Police and innovator-in-residence at Aimforthemoon

In 2015, I struggled to get €400 to buy Google Cardboards for my students.

In 2021, I secured nearly €1 million funding for different innovation-related projects.

What happened in between?

The six years between starting my innovation journey to co-leading innovation projects for the criminal investigation department of the Amsterdam Police have taught me a great deal.

I’ve felt alone, wasted time, heard countless ‘no’s’ to my requests…

…but being curious, persistent and surrounding myself with the right people have enabled me -together with like-minded colleagues- to build bottom-up innovation initiatives for The Netherlands’ largest employer: the Dutch Police Force.

As an organization we are only getting started, but I wanted to share my most important learnings so far with you as you or your colleagues might face similar challenges now, or soon. Also, I’m adding some recommendations for executives which might make the life of an innovator a bit easier.

The importance of a hero

Why did I struggle to get €400 to buy Google Cardboards for my students? The faculty lacked visionary leadership. To give you some context, in 2014 our course Forensic Investigation at the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences was offering just a few practising opportunities for students. Back then, the mock crime scenes which students practised in were all physically built. As you can imagine, they took quite some time -and budget- to create and reuse.

Meanwhile, 360° video was on the rise. I saw an opportunity to use the technology to create virtual crime scenes. These could be built quite simply and cost-effective. It seemed like a no-brainer to me: a better learning experience for less money and more training opportunities for students. Unfortunately, our team leader at that time didn’t allow me to take €400 from our course budget.

‘It wasn’t possible’ to invest in such things…

What’s the take-away? Innovation needs a hero, without it, it’s lost. Grassroots ideas from intrinsically motivated individuals like me are nice, but if there is no one from the organization’s leadership who understands the importance of trying new things within the scope of an innovation strategy (and publicly embraces it) there will be no major positive change. It all starts with visionary leadership and commitment. Luckily, in the last few years there has been a change in the faculty’s leadership, and I’ve seen the course change and become more innovative.

Creating a relevant network 

Next to a strategy and visionary leadership, you obviously need funding to bring new ideas to life. In 2018, I switched jobs and started in my role with the Amsterdam Police Force. Here, innovation played a bigger role than at the University. There were colleagues running experiments and a new movement (‘Q Politie’) had just started. So it wasn’t until long before me and a colleague came up with an idea for a new project: creating a Virtual Reality training for inexperienced detectives. Once again, funding was a challenge. Just like at Uni, the Police’s operational budgets, I was told, were tight.

 

I started talking to my colleagues about my ideas and unlike the responses in my previous job (which were generally “That won’t work”), some people actually started to help me out. “You should talk to Dominique and Barbara” or “Let me help you.” A relevant network of innovators started to unfold for me and within three months, I was writing my first subsidy application with a colleague. It was such a great feeling, not being that lone wolf any more.

The more people I talked to, the better I understood that there was funding for innovation at the Police. The problem was that it wasn’t centrally organized and that, sometimes, clear procedures and guidelines were lacking. Frankly, knowing who to talk to can still be a challenge. To give you an example, in 2019 we started building the Virtual Reality training I just told you about because there were hardly any training facilities or courses for junior tactical detectives. It’s important for these things to exist because for police officers, there isn’t much of a safe space to learn. Most of the learning happens on the job, and that doesn’t allow for mistakes. Junior agents need their own ‘flight simulator’ too.

When starting the project, we didn’t know what the content of the training would be. We applied user-centred design and at one point we knew. While our external partner was building the actual training, our project team was focused on who would be responsible for future implementation and scaling. We found out that three different departments could own it. When we talked to the departments, they all pointed towards each other! At times, it still drives me crazy… why are people afraid to take ownership?

My take-away is that as soon as innovators start finding each other, energy starts flowing. Once more people start working on things, things get a lot easier. Leaders must support and promote this. They should create awareness around innovation activities and make it easy for people to get inspired, learn, share learnings and find the right resources.

Going in deeper

When I joined Aimforthemoon for a temporary spell in June 2022, I had gained quite some hands-on innovation experience. Especially the collaborations with external agencies like Pivotal and Aimforthemoon have taught me to run experiments, build prototypes and work in a balanced team.

Earlier this year, I felt I needed to improve my strategic innovation skills. Jos Werner,
a Partner at Aimforthemoon, had already told me several times that corporate innovation is about 70% stakeholder management. I knew that if I wanted my projects to become more impactful, I needed to get better at showing my stakeholders what the value of innovation is and why they should invest in it. I figured that spending some time at an external agency like Aimforthemoon would help me enhance this skill. Luckily, my manager and Aimforthemoon supported me in this, and currently I’m involved in multiple Aimforthemoon projects.

My final take-away is that it’s great to get a deep learning experience like the one I’m getting now. I’m not here to have a look and play around; I have the same responsibilities as my fellow innovators, and I’m here to make client projects succeed.

I know that I’m growing much faster now and that I as a person, and my future projects, will benefit from it. I’m enjoying every minute of it.

Want to see what other great projects Aimforthemoon has worked on? Then you should download our case studies!