Phase 2

Phase 2 Guide: Planning

This short guide provides some advice on implementing the Innovation Process. It specifically focuses on the ‘Planning’ phase of the process. It is part of a broader toolkit, which provides advice, with tools and worked examples, on a full process that has been developed, tested and refined in partnership with a number of local authorities and is firmly rooted in innovation practice as well as theory.


Aims and Objectives


The key aims and objectives of this phase are to define the focus of the innovation process, identify a list of stakeholders to attend an innovation event, prepare stimulus materials for the event, and plan logistics for the event.


At the start of this phase you will have:

At the end of this phase you will have:

- a project manager - a well defined focus e.g. issue, or target group
- clear rationale for proceeding - a diverse list of event participants from public, private and third sector organisations
- senior buy-in to the innovation process - an experienced event facilitator
- an approach to implementing the process - event logistics: venue, catering etc
- resources to implement the process - stimulus material and an event preparation exercise for attendees
- an external support contract (if needed) - agreed set of criteria for shortlisting ideas
- governance to monitor progress - a well defined focus e.g. issue, or target group  


Phase 2 Activity Map


Key activities are outlined below, with additional detail later in this guide:

Define project focus



Stimulus Materials
Plan Event


Timescales and Effort


The length of this phase will depend on the amount of preparation required for the event. A minimum of 6 weeks is recommended from the time that stakeholders have been identified to the day of the innovation event as a certain amount of lead-in time will be needed to ensure people’s availability to attend. Timescales will also depend on researching the event theme and the extent to which new research, videos or other stimulus materials are developed specifically for the event to encourage discussion and interaction.

The level of effort required will depend on whether the project manager is undertaking all of the preparatory work or has engaged external support to assist with this process. It will also depend on the size of the planned innovation event with small workshops taking much less time and resource than larger events.


Supporting Documents and Tools

A number of supporting tools, guides and worked examples have been developed to help with this phase:

Overview Guides Tools Examples

Innovation Briefing

Short Process Guide  

Phase 1: Set-Up

Phase 3: Innovation Event


Attendee Spreadsheet

Planning Spreadsheet

Decision Spreadsheet 

Invitations and Markers

Event Pre-work

Event agendas

Decision Criteria

Description of Activities


Define and research project focus
In the Set-up Phase of the innovation process, a rationale was established for implementing the innovation process. At this point further investigation will be needed to further define the focus or theme. A broad issue or theme (e.g. reducing the number of young people not in education, employment and training or tackling re-offending) is likely to generate a wide range of high level ideas, whereas a more specific theme (e.g. helping low-income families to increase their social networks) will generate a more narrowly focused collection of detailed ideas.

Part of this process could involve undertaking a small amount of research – for example a simple survey, some focus group work or a bit of desk research around the theme. Conducting a bit of research not only helps to sharpen the focus of the innovation process, but also supports the creation of stimulus materials, which help to bring participants of an innovation event together around a common issue. This research could be conducted by the project team or by an external organisation. At a minimum a degree of consultation with the target segment or potential beneficiaries of the innovation process helps to sharpen the focus and challenge all the people involved in it.

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Identify and Engage Stakeholders


Identifying stakeholder participants is a critical step in the success of any innovation process. Key ingredients to success include:

  • Bringing in new perspectives – rather than working purely with existing groups or committees (i.e. involve people who do not already know one another)
  • Involving service users and potential beneficiaries who can ground discussions in reality
  • Involving creative IT people – who can look at old problems through the lens of new emerging technologies
  • Involving people and organisations who will or could help to deliver the solutions
  • Involving frontline workers who will be critical to the success of solutions


It is also important to invite people who can provide a range of perspectives including, where relevant, people from central government, private, academic and voluntary sectors. Local stakeholders involved in service delivery are also important to the process to inform discussion and also potentially help to deliver the project ideas that are generated. Stakeholders who are likely to have challenging and potentially slightly disruptive views could encourage people to approach familiar problems in a different way, and to question their preconceptions, rather than focusing on the status quo and existing methods. An invitation checklist, planning spreadsheet and diary marker letter are included in this toolkit. 


Prepare Stimulus Material


Stimulus materials help to get stakeholders thinking about the issue at the centre of the innovation process and could emerge from research work or might already exist from other sources. The aim is to present the stimulus material at the beginning of the innovation event to get everyone ‘on the same page’ and focused on tackling the same issue. They could be created using a range of media including posters, a presentation, a video, a written briefing or prompt cards. Examples of stimulus materials are provided in this toolkit.

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Plan Event


The innovation event is an essential centrepiece of the innovation process. Getting stakeholders together for a day or half day creative workshop to discuss the issues and develop solutions has a number of benefits:

  • Stakeholders become associated with and ‘bought into’ solutions at an early stage
  • Solutions are part of ‘home grown’ process rather than being ‘parachuted in’ and therefore benefit from local context
  • These events encourage joining-up and team building across different services and partnerships – essential to delivering effective solutions

Consideration might also be given to hosting multiple events, which allow for periods of reflection and review. However, this is more resource intensive and takes much more time out of busy frontline worker schedules. Running one event and then keeping all stakeholders engaged virtually, or via smaller focused meetings can be a more practical strategy. Innovation events can vary in scale and scope but there are a number of common considerations and activities:


a) Plan Event Logistics

The event will require a suitable venue and catering. It may be helpful to choose a venue away from people’s usual working environment and comfort zone. Community venues can be particularly effective at encouraging creativity. It is also worth thinking about seating plans and ensuring a variety of backgrounds, expertise and organisations represented at each table, for group exercises.


b) Plan Agenda

The innovation event will typically take from half a day to a whole day. Some key components to the agenda are:

  • Introduction by senior stakeholder; it is important for the overall process that the senior stakeholder relates to the event and the participants in it. Likewise it is important for participants to understand the legitimacy of the process and how the results will be used by the senior stakeholder.
  • Presentation of research findings using the stimulus materials (e.g. presentation/ photographs/video/ posters). This will not only inspire participants to think about the issue that is the subject of the event, but also encourages clarity, consistency and focus around a common issue.
  • The main part of the event will typically be spent in groups reporting back into the plenary sessions. These exercises can be facilitated by giving each group templates to fill out at each stage. Typical group exercises follow this sequence:
    • Optional Icebreaker: there are a variety of short exercises to help groups get to know each other that could be used e.g. present an anecdote or some personal experience around the event theme, or if pre-event preparation work has been distributed then members of the group could be invited to share this with each other.
    • Problem Identification: groups discuss the issues, barriers and problems arising from the stimulus material in more detail adding their own insights, resulting in a list of issues that are reported back to the plenary meeting.
    • Problem Definition: one or two of the issues identified are explored in more detail and informed by the experiences of individuals in the group – particularly front line workers and service users present. The output is one or two very clearly articulated problems that need to be solved, which are again reported back to the plenary meeting and refined.
    •  Solution Identification: groups generate initial ideas for new projects and services to address one or two of the problems that have been defined. Solutions are encouraged that use ICT in creative ways. This is to stimulate thought and the viewing of the problems from a new perspective through a technology lens. However, ideas that do or do not involve technology are encouraged, captured and developed during this stage.
    • Solution Definition: groups select their most promising ideas and develop them, into clear solution definition statements.
  • The next group phase of the event is solution refinement and development where participants move around different groups to challenge or help to refine other groups’ solutions. This can be facilitated in a “café conversations” style where one or two group members stays behind to champion the group’s solutions, while the others move between groups to review other solutions.
  • The penultimate phase of the event is to present the final refined solutions and potentially permit some voting to gauge the popularity among stakeholders – this also helps all stakeholders to engage a bit more in all the ideas. Also at this stage there is the potential for some limited action planning where stakeholders can register an interest, or volunteer their help in delivering these solutions. This can be done, for example, by posting the ideas on walls and allowing people to add comments and commitments using post-it notes.
  • Event closure should involve informing participants on what will happen next to the ideas and committing to keep them updated on progress.
  • Request a short anecdote of their experience of the issue or an inspiring case study, project or initiative they have seen that is relevant.
  • Provide a short questionnaire along the lines of the event agenda e.g. what’s the problem? Any ideas for solutions? How can ICT contribute towards solving the issue? Any examples of good practice that could be implemented?
  • Read a short briefing paper or piece of research on the issue followed by a few multiple-choice questions, the aggregate results of which can be fed back to all attendees at the event.


There are many variations and different creative ways of implementing the above agenda, but most innovation events will involve essentially the same problem and solution identification and refinement steps.  The use of templates for group work is particularly effective at keeping groups focussed on delivering against each step of the agenda, and group reporting back to plenary also helps to punctuate the various steps in the process. This punctuation is important in preventing solution identification merging with problem identification, which can lead to problems being defined and written as solutions – a very common pitfall.

c) Invite Attendees
Invitations should be sent out with adequate notice e.g. at least 6 weeks, prior to the event. The invitation can be sent as a simple ‘diary marker’ for expediency. Closer to the event a full agenda, directions to the venue etc can be sent out.  For key stakeholders who are essentially required at the event – such as the senior stakeholder, and key local stakeholders – it is recommended that the date is secured in their diaries prior to sending out the diary marker to all other participants.

d) Develop Event Pre-work
Developing a small thought provoking exercise can encourage event participants to begin considering the issues before they attend the workshop. For example:

The request for preparatory work should ideally be circulated to confirmed attendees between 1-2 weeks prior to the event to ensure enough time to complete the exercise or reading. Preparatory work can be used in lots of different ways. It can be collated and fed back to all participants after the event, it can be anonymised and posted on the walls for people to comment on during the workshop or an aggregate summary can be produced and fed back to all participants during the event. Preparatory work can also be useful for highlighting any preconceptions that might be barriers to creative thinking at the event, allowing plenty of time to work out how to deal with these on the day. Above all, pre-work can ensure that attendees think about the problem ahead of time and do not waste precious meeting time getting up to speed.

e) Develop Idea Shortlisting Criteria
The innovation event will develop many ideas and potential solutions, and after the event it will be important to prioritise these ideas for further refinement – they can’t all necessarily be taken forward at once, if at all. Developing a set of criteria to prioritise and select the most attractive ideas is an important step in this process. Selecting these criteria is best undertaken before the innovation event, so that the criteria are not influenced by the solutions that have been identified – but are instead firmly rooted in the clear rationale for proceeding with the innovation process identified in the Set-up Phase of the innovation process. Obtaining the senior stakeholder’s sign-off of these criteria is also a useful early step. Developing criteria can also greatly add to the transparency and focus of the innovation process and it is worth making participants aware of them. Some example criteria against which to judge the relative merits of all ideas are:

  • Effectiveness –impact on the problem
  • Efficiency
  • Sustainability
  • Feasibility
  • Cost
  • Strategic Fit

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Dos and Don’ts

Do invite a wide range of stakeholders from the public, private and third sectors to provide a range of perspectives on the issues discussed

Do invite a wide range of stakeholders from the public, private and third sectors to provide a range of perspectives on the issues discussed

Do try to conduct research or consultation and engagement with the target client group(s) on the theme of the innovation process to provide stimulus material for attendees.

Do arrange for the event to be run by an experienced facilitator who will can ensure the event is both productive and enjoyable

Don’t leave it until you have a list of ideas before you develop criteria against which to shortlist them.

Don’t invite a limited number of participants who are already in regular contact – this will encourage a focus on the status quo and day-to-day barriers rather than innovation


Key Questions to Think About

• What is the key issue you are trying to solve?
• What do service users and front line workers have to say on this issue?
• What existing research and materials are there around this issue and which of this will inform participants’ thinking at the event?
• Who are the key stakeholders and experts in solving this issue – locally and nationally? Who has an interest in seeing the issue resolved? Who has in interest in offering a service that solves the problem? Who is an expert in this area? Which 3rd sector organisations work in this area? Which ICT companies have a service or CSR interest in this area?
• How can the issue be best presented to stakeholder participants?
• What are your organisation’s key decision criteria for selecting and shortlisting ideas that will emerge from the process?
• Is it possible for some service users to attend the event? How might you recruit them? If not, is it possible to get to them to participate in other ways – e.g. create a video for the event?

© City of London 2010