Case Study: Skills Innovation Network launched with the International Labour Organization (ILO)

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February 10, 2021
Digital Facilitation

Background - ILO and skills innovation

“The International Labour Organization (ILO) is devoted to promoting social justice and internationally recognized human and labour rights, pursuing its founding mission that social justice is essential to universal and lasting peace. 

Since 1919 the ILO brings together governments, employers and workers of 187 member States, to set labour standards, develop policies and devise programmes promoting decent work for all women and men.” (taken from the ILO’s website) 

The ILO recognises that the world of work is shifting and that more dynamic and integrated approaches are required to respond to these changes.  

“Skills systems are confronted by the need to respond to increasingly dynamic and fluid labour market and societal conditions. Climate change, technology, demographic shifts, migration and globalization are causing increasing disruption to the world of work, while making skills development increasingly complex, fluid and unpredictable. Addressing contemporary skills challenges requires more dynamic and integrated skills and lifelong learning ecosystems.” (source: Website of ILO Skills Innovation Facility)

In the call published at the end January 2020, more than 470 applicants submitted their ideas and proposals by the end of April, out of which 10 were selected as semi-finalists. 

Yet in the spirit of building lifelong learning ecosystems, the motivation of the ILO was not only to reward the best applications, but to build a network of innovators around the topic of skills innovation, called the Skills Innovation Network.

“The Skills Innovation Network will be a global member-driven network of skills innovators, including ILO Constituents, TVET institutions, academia and development practitioners, interested in sharing ideas, experiences and collaborate to develop and scale innovations for identified skills challenges.” (ILO Skills Innovation Facility)
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To achieve these goals and launch the network, the ILO reached out to Unity Effect. Among others, the role of Unity Effect was to: 

  • consult the ILO on conceptualising and designing the network and its future community of practice
  • prepare and facilitate online sessions with a core group of 25 actors 
  • set up and further develop a visualisation of the network
  • write and submit a report with recommendations on further action steps

How to co-design a network

“The network provides for us a great value that is to unify and build a "common purpose", we could almost say "global" because of the number of countries represented here in the network.” (Feedback from network participant)

Designing a network from scratch can be a daunting task and requires a fine balance between clear leadership and enabling bottom-up participation. And while every network is unique, there are underlying principles shared by successful and thriving networks, including a clear purpose and felt sense of belonging, as well as a fair balance between personal benefit and shared responsibility for the whole. 

The Skills Innovation Network is now on the way to becoming a global and purposeful network with genuine peer-support and a shared sense of ownership. How did we achieve that?  

Some crucial steps on the way were: 

  • Identifying a number of potential network drivers: people who might be interested and motivated to shape the network and its direction.
  • Sending out an appealing invitation to these people and inviting them to a series of interactive online calls. 
  • Being transparent from the very beginning about the ILO’s intention to co-design the network with participants and forming a core group to do so. 
  • The ILO backing this invitation up with action: listening to participants, offering genuine support and implementing suggestions from the get go. 
  • Valuing diversity, both in terms of origins, backgrounds and opinions of participants. 
  • Jointly exploring the potential and value of building the network and jointly developing a roadmap with specific activities. 
  • Recording and documenting all sessions and keeping all interested participants in the loop. 
  • Having a visual representation of the network to stimulate peer-to-peer communication and to increase the identification with the network itself. 

Furthermore, we were very deliberate about the digital tools we used to enable participation and collaboration, without creating unnecessary barriers. Nevertheless, from our perspective the most important factor was to build trust between the ILO and the participants as this enabled everybody to share openly and connect on a human level. This, in turn, led to the identification of shared interests and challenges on a deeper level and is the foundation for the network to provide true value to its members.


“I went to the Skills Innovation Network map and saw the other participants’ profiles. I saw other universities and organizations that work in different areas and I could identify several areas of complementarity." (Samer Sfeir, Founder/Social entrepreneur, ProAbled, Lebanon)

We find it deeply encouraging and inspiring to work with networks and leverage the potential within and between us. And we would love to hear from you and explore together how we might be able to support you and your network.

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