How to create impactful innovation challenges
Solving problems in society and organisations can be an immense and difficult task – but it needn’t be. There are fresh and exciting ways that large corporations and the public sector are managing to enact true change; typically by engaging startups.
A fantastic way of making this process as simple and time-effective as possible is by releasing innovation challenges. For those who aren’t aware, innovation challenges are a method of broadcasting a problem statement and crowd-sourcing solutions that help you to solve it. Typically this is in exchange for a prize pot, partnerships or competitive advantages for the winner.
This approach is increasingly common, assisting organisations like NASA, Transport for London and the Scottish Government solve some of their biggest organisational and societal problems. In turn, this has accelerated the diversification of supply-chains through the adoption of leading startups.
In this article, we’ll share with you a guide to approaching crowd-sourcing innovation and sharing our experience as the UK’s leader in challenge-based innovation.
Step 1. Identifying the challenge
The great news is that finding challenges is a simple process and one that stakeholders in your organisation will know, it will just require some investigating. This all rests on how advanced you are in recognizing the problems that are present. If you already know what they are, fantastic! If you don’t, that’s also positive news; this is your first step in understanding how to improve the way you work.
What we typically do with our clients to get started is to interview heads of departments, CIOs and other stakeholders who can outline what they’re finding difficult strategically and operationally. We couple this with industry research, datasets and other approaches but you needn’t dive that deeply – problems can be abundantly obvious.
If you have a lead on a problem you think will be a great candidate, it’s useful to have some key metrics and data that help you decide which is a priority. It’s important to validate your assumptions as much as you can as it assists you in making the correct decisions and to present your ideas to key stakeholders. Data and research are your friends.
Now you should have a longlist of problems from across your organisation, It’s time to pick the most compelling. To get the best results, phrase your challenges as a question, making approaches to solve the problem open to interpretation.
Let’s take Transport for London’s 2019 Civic Innovation Challenge question as an example:
‘How can innovation help to make the way goods and services move around London safer, cleaner and more efficient?’’
What you will notice is that the question is broad, helping to attract a range of ideas and approaches.
Locating challenges and problem statements in your organisation is likely something your team recognizes already. If not, then treat this as a guide to help get you started – whether you decide to set up an innovation challenge or no, It’s a great idea to get started in finding strategies to solve them.
Step 2. Launch and promotion
Right, you have your challenges prepared and approved to go, now we’ll help you attract the best people to solve it. Time for prizes.
To do this, simply think about the challenges. If you’re an organisation, how much is this problem costing your business? If you’re in the public sector, will this solution solve deep societal issues? Can a cost be attached to it? This will help you find the right prizes and benefits you will want to offer to the winners – here’s some examples:
- A funding pot
- A business partnership
- Access the stakeholders in the organisation
- Assistance and advice in scaling and growth
Our advice would be that often access to relationships, case studies and routes to market is as powerful to smaller organisations than simply a lump sum cash injection.
Working with startups to develop their idea in an accelerator format is a popular option also. Whilst it can be more time consuming, this gives you terrific access to collaborate and whittle down to find your perfect winner. Often a solution may look inappropriate initially, but in time, it could be exactly what you are looking for – this level of collaboration is unique to innovation challenges.
One other aspect to consider is whether you want to work with another organisation to help run and manage the challenge. A partnership can help broaden the reach, enhance the prizes and drive more engagement. For instance, the TfL RoadLab organised partners with Thames Water, OpenReach, Virgin Media amongst others. This created a real hype around the opportunity, giving a massive incentive for startups to enter and win.
Step 3. Evaluation
At this stage, you know which challenge you want to tackle, you know how the process is going to run and you know what prizes the winners or finalists will win, but what is the best way of finding the winners?
Something that we help organisations to create is assessment criteria, making sure that applicants are compliant and that you want to be associated with. It is important to share your assessment criteria to help guide applicants, for example on UK Defence projects, it might be that only companies from the UK can apply. This will help you form the backbone of your assessment.
Consider startups/SMEs who:
- Operate from the same region as your organisation and understand your customers/citizens
- Hold the same social responsibility & equality values
- Business and technology maturity
- Previous bankruptcy or unsustainable cash flow issues – this can usually be verified through credit reports although be conscious this may be difficult for SMEs
Remember the heads of departments you spoke to initially? They would be perfect in helping you to ask the right questions, to look at the solutions and help you pick a winner. Ultimately the department associated with the problem would be a strong asset in this stage.
Step 4. Evaluation
Innovation challenges are a terrific way of engaging and partnering with innovators to help solve urban and corporate challenges. Increasingly organisations are calling out for ways that help then solve urban challenges, boost their CSR and increase competitiveness – luckily innovation challenges can tick these boxes.
But there’s an art to it.
If you haven’t guessed so far, Nitrous is the UK’s leader in challenge-based innovation, with expertise running challenges for both public and private sector clients – let us do it for you.
We can find the right challenges, build a programme that works around you, set assessment criteria to get the solutions you need, and give you the platform to make your challenge a success – ChallengeX.
Get in touch below and we’ll give you a free hour consultation to help you get started building your innovation challenge and an introduction to ChallengeX.