Tuesday, April 27, 2010

This workshop had a single point agenda - define the challenge for open innovation

We recently participated in a 2 day workshop organized by one of our clients. This client is a consortium of agencies funded by United Nations, working towards providing solutions for sanitation and clean water in India. Approximately 50 delegates participated from France, Netherlands and fifteen different states of India.

Here we share some of the best practices followed during the workshop in formulating a challenge for open innovation.

First the no brainer, Schedule a long listening session – Put forward a guideline that only challenges and issues faced are being discussed and not the solution. Make sure to have involvement and participation from all stake holders. The best ingredient to have a right problem is to listen up from a diverse forum with respect to age, geographies, departments, designations or social status, whichever is applicable.

Conquer challenge articulation by dividing it in logical groups – This will help you express the challenge in a way which is much easier to understand by the individual who is likely  to solve it for you. Some of the examples of logical grouping for this workshop were related to culture and mindset, raw material availability and cost. Also this could help you divide the challenge into multiple smaller challenges to be solved independent of each other.

Try not telling the truth! – Telling what you need solved is the best way to get to solutions, but see if you can abstract it from the domain of your challenge. For example if your  sole interest is in reducing the cost of sanitation by reducing the cost of toilet roof then instead of calling it a sanitation challenge call it a “how to reduce the cost of roof” challenge. This way you are keeping it open for the people from construction domain as well, who otherwise, on seeing it as sanitation challenge could end up not considering it.

Simulate the outcome - Know your evaluation criteria well and convert them into specific expectations. Further categorize your expectations as ‘must meet’ and ‘good if met’.

Allocate Reward only after formulating the challenges – Having overall budget for the solution is ok, but put the exact reward only after you have the complete challenge in front of you. The only rule which should be applied while deciding on the reward is making it proportionate to the effort and skill required and the benefit it will deliver to you once obtained. There is no right or wrong answer for this one, but needs a bit of deliberation at the minimum.

Don’t overload the challenge – Don’t add up all the expectation into the challenge such that solvers are confused by too many requirements, perceive it to be too complicated, and don’t take it up for solving. At the same time make sure it has a good enough stretch factor and highlights all your must have expectations.

Do share if there are any additional best practices that worked for you while formulating a challenge for open innovation.


  1. I have inexpensive solutions to provide high quality water sanitation in most places, especially tropical countries. However there is no current challenge for water sanitation.

  2. @Odlanier - The workshop post against which you have posted the comment is still under discussion and challenge will be posted soon on ideaken. Do visit after few weeks.

    Also check out other challenges in the mean while.

    Appreciate you inquiring about the sanitation challenge.

  3. Great points about the process of articulating and formulating the open innovation challenge, Jayesh.

    I'd also like to add here that during the first stage, during the "listening" phase, its very valuable to do some "first hand looking", if at all possible. Granted that sometimes, this may not be possible, but the insights gained by doing this will be much more valuable than listening to others' views of what the problem is, inside a closed room. If you have to have the 2nd hand insights, then having an activity where all the participats are sent out to gain first hand insights through "fresh eyes" will greatly improve the input process.

    Thats been my experience.