Ever felt stuck for new ideas? Consider hosting an Innovation Challenge at work.
What is an Innovation Challenge?
It is a focused brainstorming session with a selected cross-functional group of staff members and/or external participants who are tasked with coming up with ideas or solutions in response to a problem statement. This team is removed from their day job for a limited time, and taken out of the limitations imposed by their everyday environment. These brainstorms have been highly effective in helping us generate great ideas for some of our biggest challenges!
- Present an overview of the issue.
- Have a clear problem statement to focus the team.
- Have a trained external facilitator and work with them in defining goals, preparing a flexible agenda and a variety of ideation techniques.
- Consider building in group games with some physical movement to give participants a mental break and to get their creativity flowing in other areas.
- Make decisions on the most promising ideas.
- Form teams around those ideas to further develop them.
- Have a note taker to capture ideas and feedback.
- Set aside time for participants to present their ideas in groups.
- Make sure to do an end of day debrief.
Find an offsite environment with lots of light, a large main room with either breakout rooms or enough space to allow different teams to have a defined area to work in. Have comfortable chairs, flip charts and markers, and sticky notes in hand. Good meals, snacks, and drinks also make the session more enjoyable for everyone.
What We’ve Learned
- Facilitator and the host of the Innovation Challenge should regularly check in with the groups to ensure that the groups are working effectively; may need to mix up the composition of groups if the dynamic isn’t working. For example, if one group is dominated by a few strong and vocal personalities.
- Tangible outcomes can happen in a very short time
- Important to incorporate a variety of techniques to support a creative process
- The duration of an Innovation Challenge can be one day or multiple days; it depends on your objectives
- The better defined your problem statement is – the better the results.
- Setting time limits forced decisions and cut down on unproductive chatter
Case Study: World Vision’s Securing Africa’s Future
Problem Statement: Develop a new fundraising product to provide consistent, long-term funding that targets new markets not addressed through World Vision’s child sponsorship.
Context: Raise funding for a promising program, Securing Africa’s Future that helps smallholder farmers in Tanzania develop a sustainable livelihood.
Goal: To have several promising ideas developed into a clear value proposition, business plan and a defined target audience.
Time: 3 days
Outcome: Several solid ideas emerged which WVC is currently pursuing. One idea focused on Canadian farmers and cooperatives as a new donor segment and required seed money to get off the ground. An innovation proposal was then submitted to WVC’s Innovation Fund to pursue this initiative and was accepted. Another idea focused on social impact investing and is currently being incubated in-house.