I interviewed Matt Candler, the head of a design lab called 4.0 Schools, last week. This design lab is focused on education innovation, be it new schools, new technology, new operational efficiencies, etc.
Two decades into the charter school movement, many people who think about education innovation have the goal of opening a new school. It makes sense: change within existing institutions is hard. A successful charter can be scaled into a charter network, and hopefully achieve results at scale.
The problem, Candler pointed out, is that a new school is a very big and expensive way to test things. If something doesn't work, you can certainly change course in the middle of the year (and new charters do this a lot) but you're still steering a big ship. And if things go massively south, closing a charter (or seeing the kids leave for elsewhere) creates a lot of turbulence in kids' lives.
Opening a school is like opening a restaurant. But in the food industry, Candler pointed out, there's now a quicker way to test and iterate: the food truck. Got a crazy restaurant concept? A food truck is relatively cheap to start and test your ideas. If it doesn't work, you can retool quickly with new menu items and a new coat of paint by practically the next meal. You can test different locations. Once you figure out what works, you can put capital into opening a "real" restaurant.
So what would the food truck equivalent be in education? It could be an after school program at a community center. It could be a one-week academic camp to cover spring break or the "camp gap" between the end of the school year and the start of most area summer programs. Given that a work year is about 2000 hours and a school year is closer to 1100-1200 hours at most, there are lots of potential hours parents might like academic things, but that don't involve competing head on with the existing school reality. Test your education concept or technology during these food truck times, and you can figure out what works and doesn't before you launch a school or try to get your idea into existing ones.
I realized, hearing this analogy, that I have a food truck equivalent in my line of work: blogging. Writing a book is a huge ordeal. Writing a blog post? Not so much (usually). If I have what I think is a great book idea, and I float something related on this blog, and nobody bites, that's an indication that I could be in for a slog. On the other hand, if a post goes semi-viral, I see that I may be on to something. That's worth putting a little more time and effort in.
What's the food truck equivalent in your industry?
Photo courtesy flickr user BetterBizIdeas