Enabling ideation and sourcing innovation.

When sourcing innovation it’s helpful to make use of a variety of approaches and platforms. In this module, we give you a peek into some of the methods we have used to attract and co-create unconventional ideas to feed the Innovation Edge pipeline and portfolio. We share insights about what has or hasn’t worked and why. Finally, you will also find a selection of resources and templates to help you in your work.

Our methods for attracting and co-creating unconventional ideas.

In the quest to attract ideas from a diverse audience, you may discover that the range of understanding of the challenges you’re trying to solve is varied. We’ve found that to draw disruptive ideas from diverse sources, there needs to be diversity in the sourcing strategy. Some sourcing activities are low on effort and high on yielding large quantities of diverse ideas. Other activities require a greater deal of time and resources and produce smaller quantities of ideas that are more focused. Scroll for a snapshot of each of our approaches  or dive straight into the detail below.

All-year round open call.

An online application is an excellent way to have an open and accessible portal for incoming ideas. This has a low barrier to entry for individuals or organizations that have a fully or partially formed idea and are looking for funding. The benefits of this approach include high volumes of applications at relatively low effort. The conversion rate to investment, however, is often low – our experience is that about 1 in 20 online applications end up being considered for further discussion.
Key insight for Funders:
Driving constant traffic to your website is essential in getting a good quantity of applications for funding. The quality of the ideas being pitched is often dependent on how well you’ve targeted your traffic acquisition. Quality is also influenced by how well you have constructed the questions within the online application form.
Key insight for Innovators:
Make sure that you understand the criteria for funding before beginning the application process. You’ll want to ensure that your idea is aligned with the purpose of your funder and that you have the necessary evidence to make a compelling case.

Incentivised Innovation Challenges.

Innovation Challenges allow for the sourcing of ideas around a specific problem within a short period of time. By clearly communicating the problem and the opportunity for innovators to access support to solve it, you can attract new ideas and people into your fold.
Key insight for Funders:
Challenges need to be defined in a way that makes them easy to understand, but demanding to solve. If you want to attract responses from people who do not ordinarily engage in this field, you will need to unpack the challenge in ways that help innovators to see the opportunity for them to contribute. Use examples to illustrate your point. The rewards of solving the challenge also need to be well defined. Making ‘a big deal’ about each Innovation Challenge is a good way of generating interest and securing participation. Tactics for promotion of Challenges include PR activities, online and social media marketing and direct mail.
Key insight for Innovators:
It is often difficult to understand how to make a difference in a sector that you know little about. We come across lots of people who want to have a meaningful impact on the world around them and so they respond to a call for assistance – this may be in the form of painting a preschool or collecting old books and educational toys. Our challenges are designed to encourage people to find a fit between the expertise, skills, networks they have and the opportunity for impact. Open yourself up to the possibility that your business processes or products, your core competencies, or your networks of influence could be reimagined to achieve impact at scale.

Active Co-creation and Open Innovation.

With this technique you actively seek out individuals or organizations that are well placed to bring completely different perspectives to a particular issue. When co-creating with groups of people, you could use tools such as human centered design to generate ideas to take forward. It’s important to think about proximity to the problem – make sure you include space for input from the individuals whose problem you are trying to solve! Very often in the development sector, the people who are solving the ‘problem’ are not the same people who are experiencing the ‘problem’.
Not all co-creation happens in an organised fashion! Be ready to join the dots at every opportunity by keeping crib notes on hand about unsolved challenges. Keep a log of individuals who offer a piece of a puzzle that needs completing. Sometimes you’ll carry these disparate pieces around for months until they fall into place – this is when co-creation happens.
Key insight for Funders:
Key to further development of promising ideas is being able to find a suitable entrepreneur or organisation to take ownership of them. One of the biggest challenges to co-creation is the question of who “owns” the idea. Co-creation can create co-dependence – the idea may work but it will not be sustained or scaled unless there is independent leadership and a sense of real ownership. Be clear from the start about roles and responsibilities, and design the process (everything from chairing and minuting meetings to managing deliverables) in a way that reinforces independent leadership for scale.
Key insight for Innovators:
Co-creation and open innovation allows you the opportunity of working with others to make a good idea even better. Seek out these opportunities for collaboration to get creative and unexpected input to help grow or advance your ideas.

Ideation Events.

Ideation events encourage participants to let go of their assumptions and explore new and creative ways of problem solving. These events can take a variety of forms including hackathons, think-tanks, immersive learning journeys and more.
Diversity and disruption are critical ingredients for successful ideation events.
Key insight for Funders:
Successful ideation processes need an excellent facilitator and the right mix of people and perspectives. For ideation events to work, participants need to have a good sense of the problem they are trying to solve. Make sure the individuals you bring together have diverse perspectives and experience. Think about ways of designing the event to include disruptions to move people away from their ‘default’ thought processes. These disruptions may include props, photos, videos and talks on issues that shift perspective or inspire.
Key insight for Innovators:
Generating new ideas can be challenging especially when you and your team have become used to a certain way of doing things. Ideation events are powerful tools to shake things up and combat musty modes of thinking. Ideation is all about getting the creative juices flowing.

Our top 4 insights on enabling ideation and sourcing innovation.

1. Promising ideas need a waiting space.

When you turn your organisation into a place where individuals and organisations come to share thoughts and challenges, promising ideas often emerge. Sometimes when promising ideas emerge, we don’t have all the pieces of the puzzle to act. At other times the owner of the idea doesn’t necessarily want to be the entrepreneur who brings it to life. In order to hold onto these ideas, we’ve created what we call a Spark Bank. The Spark Bank allows us to hold the space for an idea until the timing is right and to make it visible to others to potentially kick off the process. You could have a Spark Bank that is virtual or one that is physical. The goal is to have the ideas available and to maintain the Spark Bank in a meaningful way, so that the missing ingredient can be found or identified by others.
Have a look at a Spark Bank graduate
One of the questions in our (formerly physical) Spark Bank was “How could we use existing business platforms better?” A visitor to our office saw that question up on the wall. During the meeting she mentioned that she knew of a design and manufacturing company that was experimenting with re-purposing blank space created during print runs. This led to a pilot collaboration with Barrows Design & Manufacturing (PTY) Ltd. Barrows   design and manufacture retail display units for companies all over South Africa. Very often, the printing of these display units results in ‘waste’ in the form of blank spaces on the production set up’s – areas of cardboard or paper not covered with artwork. The team at Barrows challenged themselves to find a way of re-purposing that waste to generate educational material for young children without affecting the daily running of the business. In just over 1 year, they have produced 68,993 pieces of educational material. These have reached about 138 000 children. The combined printing and distribution value is R2,684,630.43. Have a look at the inspiring talk about this initiative at Think Future 2017  

2. Quality outperforms quantity.

Think about the idea funnel you would like to create. Ideally you want to frame your invitation in a way that doesn’t result in hundreds of applications that are way off the mark. But you don’t want to miss the one in a million great idea either! When thinking about your application funnel it’s important to consider the source of ideas, as well as the quality of ideas. We have learnt that diversity is essential for innovation. As a result, one of the measures of the effectiveness of our sourcing strategy is the diversity of our applicants. This is linked to our mission of sourcing innovative ideas that offer unique solutions for transforming the lives of young children. If you want to tap into great ideas from unlikely sources you will need to think about how you frame the problem that needs to be solved.
Read more about what’s worked for us
When we were first starting out, we thought that the best way to get a good idea was to get a lot of ideas and so we created a steep funnel, where we got loads of applications but only 5% of ideas made it through the first stage. We have since reworked our approach, primarily through being really clear about what we are not looking for. The way you frame the call for ideas is really important for ensuring that the ideas you do get are of good quality. Be clear on what you are not interested in. At the same time, attracting innovation requires you to be open to the unknown / unexpected. Framing is everything.

3. Identifying and engaging the right people is a must.

One of the most essential pieces to ideating and sourcing of innovative ideas is figuring out who your ‘right people’ are and then developing effective ways of engaging them. This can be one of the most difficult tasks for an organisation. The important questions to ask are “What sort of people are likely to hold the kind of ideas we need?”, “How do I find them?” and “How do I get them to care about my focus area?”. We realised that the holders of truly innovative ideas for our need – positively transforming the early life experiences of young children – were likely to come from other areas of expertise. In order to find these individuals and organizations and entice them to innovate in the early childhood care and education space, it is all about leveraging relationships and networks.
Take a look at some networking hacks
  • Hire a diverse team The individuals in a diverse team will have diverse personal networks. Inspire your team and you’ll inspire the people in their circles too.
  • Leverage your supporters By getting the word out about your mission, you can invite your funders and supporters to leverage their networks to push interesting individuals and organizations your way.  Alternatively, if you have identified specific individuals that you want to pull in to the conversation, you can use your funder and supporter networks to find a connection to them.
  • Make use of LinkedIn LinkedIn can be a powerful tool in mapping and creating connections. It’s great for figuring out who you are connected to that can introduce you to specific individuals or organizations.
  • Influence the influencer Once you’ve decided who your ‘right’ people are (think groups of people), you may want to figure out who they’re connected to and what interests them. Once you’ve done this, find ways of connecting with those influencers or using relevant platforms for targeted communication. Be bold!
  • Be opportunistic See every meeting or conversation as an opportunity to grow your networks and source the right people. Our Director once spoke to a stranger in a shared taxi about needing to find a speaker for an innovative conference. Yes, that ‘stranger’ connected her with the ideal person who ended up delivering a keynote address.
  • Build meaningful relationships Once you’ve attracted the people you need, you have to make them care about your pain points. To do this, you’ll need to build a relationship with them. By focusing first on what that person or group wants, rather than on what you want, you can build a relationship with them around something that is important to them.

4.Targeted marketing and communications efforts are key.

Having platforms where people are able to access inspiration and information about you and your cause are essential. Taking a targeted approach to drawing people into engaging with those platforms is key for enabling effective ideation and sourcing. The platforms we use to deliver our integrated marketing and communications strategy include a responsive website; social media channels; events; proactive and reactive media placements; and funder and supporter channels.
Access our targeted marketing and communications tips