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Phase 3

Phase 3 Guide: Innovation Event


This short guide provides some advice on implementing the Innovation Process. It specifically focuses on the ‘innovation event’ element 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 aim and objective of this phase is to bring a diverse set of stakeholders together to clearly define a common issue or problem and then to generate ideas and potential solutions. The focus is commonly on tackling disadvantage and exclusion. Solutions are encouraged which make creative use of technology to, for example, improve services, increase engagement and support independence.


At the start of this phase you will have:

At the end of this phase you will have:

- a well defined focus e.g. issue, or target group - clear problem statements around the focus, issue or target group that is the subject of the innovation event
- a diverse list of event participants from public, private and third sector organisations - over 20 proposed solutions to one or more of these specific problems
- an experienced event facilitator - an early indication of stakeholder views of the solutions, with 4-5 favoured ones
- event logistics: venue, catering etc - potential offers of support to take some of the solutions forward
- stimulus material and an event preparation exercise for attendees

- a detailed and validated innovation event report 

- agreed set of criteria for shortlisting ideas 



Phase 1 Activity Map


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


Setting the Context

 Problem Identification and Definition

Solution Identification and Definition

Event report


Timescales and Effort


All the planning for the innovation event is completed in the Planning Phase – so the effort and resource involved in the event itself is typically 1-2 days preparation and attendance at the event. Additional time is necessary to compile an event report, which adequately captures all the problems and solutions identified at the event.  


Supporting Documents and Tools


A number of supporting tools have been developed to help with this phase:






Innovation Briefing

Short Process Guide

Phase 2: Planning

Phase 4: Project Definition

Group Exercise Templates

Brainstorming Prompt

Solution Definition Prompt

Event Materials Checklist

Event Feedback Form


Event support documents

Post event reports


Description of Activities


The innovation event is an essential centrepiece of the innovation process. Getting a diverse set of stakeholders together for a creative workshop to discuss the issues and develop solutions has many benefits, but it primarily helps stakeholders to become personally associated with problems and solutions at the earliest stage. The event also supports team building and partnership working and other essential ingredients to the successful delivery of solutions.

There are many ways of running an innovation event and this guide is not meant to be prescriptive, but the following sections highlight some important ingredients for success.


Setting the Context


It is important that everyone who attends the event understands the context at the outset and an introduction by a senior stakeholder is a good way of doing this, even if the senior stakeholder doesn’t stay for the rest of the workshop. This introduction could cover:

-          a welcome and thanks for attending,

-          why the issue/ theme is of importance and a personal and organisational priority,

-          a challenge to be creative in generating solutions,

-          reassurance and commitment to consider carefully the emerging solutions.


Another important element of setting the context is the event facilitator’s introduction particularly if they are from an external organisation or consultancy – it is important for this to be made clear at the outset, and to emphasise their neutral role in the event and post-event. The facilitator should also highlight the ground rules for the day. Example ground rules might include:

-          No person or organisation may be criticised

-          All ideas are valid; creative, outlandish suggestions are encouraged.

-          Let others speak

-          Say what you think

-          Discuss and park controversial issues

-          Collective responsibility for making the day a success

-          Keep to time

-          Don’t mention technologies or solutions until after problem identification


The facilitator should also run through the overall agenda for the day and reinforce the importance of keeping to time so that some clear outputs from the day can be produced.


Finally, a critical part of setting the context for the day is to introduce the event theme in a challenging and engaging way. The senior stakeholder, a policy or service expert, or an academic researcher could do this. Where possible it could also involve service users or testimony from the target segment that stands to benefit from emerging solutions. Example effective approaches might include:

-          videos made by users about the issues they face,

-          video interviews with service providers and users,

-          presentations on research or survey results around the issue,

-          specific details of the national and local context around the issue,

-          storytelling by service users or front line workers.


The objectives of this introduction are to:

-          support a clear understanding of the issue,

-          establish a common, consistent starting point for all event participants,

-          challenge preconceptions and encourage openness to new ideas,

-          motivate attendees to solve the issues.


Problem Identification and Definition


Following a plenary introduction of the issue the bulk of the workshop could be spent in smaller groups, within which many people feel more comfortable expressing their views and presenting ideas.  These groups will have been selected in the planning phase to try to ensure a diversity of views and perspectives in each, and to try to avoid participants naturally working with people they already know well. The first phase of the workshop should be spent exploring specific problems in more detail. This is an important phase – if missed, the results of the innovation process can be much poorer as a result, with solutions emerging that are, for example, less grounded in real problems, technology led, or have poorer business cases. At worst, further into the process, significant effort can be expended developing solutions to the wrong problems. Another important goal of problem definition is to ensure that emerging problems are manageable, and are not too complex or multifaceted.


There are potentially a few discrete exercises around problem exploration, which could be undertaken, punctuated by each group reporting back to the plenary.


In the first exercise, problem identification, the group can build on the issues highlighted in the opening plenary presentation and explore them further. This is an opportunity to identify barriers, and assess what is stopping the desired social outcomes from being achieved. The implications and impact on the target segment or community can also be explored. Some stimulus material, story boards, pictures or case studies could be left on tables for groups to use as inspiration. This exercise is particularly an opportunity for those closest to the problem, frontline workers, service users etc to share with the rest of the group their understanding. The output of this phase could be placed on flipcharts or on post-it notes, which can be clustered together into common barriers and issues. The output of this phase is a number of key barriers and problems identified by each group, and each group can briefly report back their findings to the rest of workshop. The feedback from this can help each group to prioritise which of the barriers or problems they have identified to focus on in the next stage.


The second potential exercise is problem definition. In this exercise each group concentrates on one or two of the problems identified and develops a clear definition and formulation of the problem. There are plenty of formal techniques that can be used to help to define problems, such as root-cause analysis, however, some simple prompt questions can also be particularly effective. Each table can be given one or two forms to fill out using a few simple prompt questions such as:

-          The problem is …

-          This problem impacts the following people …

-          and impacts them in the following way …

-          The current situation is not good enough because …


The output of this exercise is a number of clearly defined problems from each group. These can either be reported back to all participants at the end of the exercise, or the forms can be stuck up on the wall for all participants to view and comment on with post-its notes during coffee-break or lunch.


Whether problem definition and identification is merged into a single exercise or divided into a number of smaller discrete steps is optional, however the need to clearly define problems before moving on to solution generation is critical. Furthermore, having a clear template for groups to fill out ensures the exercises are goal orientated, problems are defined consistently and helps to reduce the risk of problems being confused with solutions.


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Solution Identification and Definition


 The next stage of the process is to produce ideas to solve the specific problems defined in the previous exercises. This is where the private sector and technology participants can start to play a larger role. Up until this point they have been absorbing the issues and problems, and resisting the temptation to mention potential solutions and the role of technology in delivering these solutions (see ground rules). However they bring along a unique perspective and are able to look at the problems through a technology lens, which the social service experts may not have considered before. There are potentially a few discrete exercises around solution generation.


The starting point is solution identification, a brainstorming exercise to think of potential solutions and to generate a long list of ideas.  There are many different approaches to this stage, including:


-          All write down individual ideas on post it notes, then develop them together.

-          Each group has template forms on which participants can draw and visualise ideas and solutions.

-          Each group member produces an idea on paper and then passes it to the person on their left, who builds on the idea. Each idea is passed around the full group so that they are well developed and elaborated by the time they get back to their originator.


Although there are many approaches to this exercise, the simple approach of giving each group a flip chart and letting them get on with it is often very effective. The facilitator can circle around each group and provide encouragement and prompting during the exercise. One of the most important ground rules at this point is to require everyone to withhold comments and reactions to each other’s ideas - criticism can stifle creativity and even the most outrageous ideas can lead to secondary ideas or thoughts that might be plausible future solutions. So at this stage all ideas should be encouraged.  Another important principle is to focus on quantity not quality at this stage. Ideas will be evaluated after the event.


After initial solution identification each group will have developed plenty of ideas – and these ideas should be captured for future reference after the event. However, it is then worth undertaking further refinement and solution definition. Each group can work on their lists and consolidate ideas, merging those that are similar, then choosing their best 2 or 3 ideas and writing them up on a solutions definition template. Potential prompt questions in this template are:

-          What is the name of the project?

-          What will the project do and what is the resulting product or service?

-          What will be the key intended outcome, and for whom?


Alternatively groups can be asked to sketch their solutions to provide a visualisation. This can facilitate communication and feedback.


Solution Refinement and Development

Once groups have defined their best 2-3 ideas, synthesised from their longer lists, and presented them in a clear and common format, then it is a good stage to open the ideas out for all other groups to review. Again there are many approaches to this, but the goals remain the same – to expand, develop and refine solutions by encouraging comment and input from people outside of the groups that generated them. Approaches to this stage could be:


-          A café conversations approach; one or two champions from each group remain on their table while all other group members rotate around the other groups where they are given a short 2 minute description of each idea and 5-10minutes to comment before moving on. A slight derivative of this approach is to keep it unstructured and let people migrate to the groups and ideas that interest them most to which they can add most value.

-          A dragon’s den approach; where a champion from each group presents their ideas to all other participants who ask clarification questions and help to develop the ideas further. This can be complemented with voting and prioritisation (see next section).

-          A ‘showcase’ approach; where all the ideas are posted on a wall and participants can add comments. One advantage of this approach is that people can also be invited to suggest how they, or their organisation, can help to deliver the solution.


As with previous exercises, the ground rules for this stage are very much about building on the ideas and improving them. At this stage there is some scope to identify any obvious flaws in the ideas, as the ideas are owned more at a group level, and there is less opportunity for criticism to be taken personally by individuals. One common pitfall at this point is to over-consolidate solutions and ideas in to broader ‘super-ideas’ or programmes of related ideas. This should be avoided where possible as it significantly complicates further work on the ideas – particularly producing clear project definitions and business cases.


Solution Prioritisation 

A penultimate step in the event is to vote on top the 4-5 ideas emerging from the event as a whole. There are a number of benefits of doing this. Firstly, it provides an early indication of any clear front-runners, which might gain widespread stakeholder acceptance and as a consequence represent projects that are more deliverable and achievable. Secondly, it helps to create a feeling of joint ownership among participants of 4-5 ideas at the end of the day. Thirdly, it helps participants feel that something clear and focused has been achieved and provides a reward for an intense 3-6 hours of work. Finally, identifying a few priority ideas raises expectations that something will emerge beyond the event and helps to create some additional momentum.


The voting can happen in a number of ways; a show of hands, a phased process of elimination of groups of projects until 4-5 emerge as priorities that all have voted for, or by giving participants three stickers each to place on their favoured projects.


Event Closure

Finally it is important to formally close the event. This should involve informing participants of what will happen next to the ideas, assuring them that none of the problems or ideas identified will be lost, and committing to keep them updated on progress. And of course thanking them for their time, and also letting them know that as the ideas develop the project team may get in touch with individual participants, or groups, in order to refine ideas and build business cases.


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Event report


It is important to write an event report in good time after the event to share with participants. This report should adequately cover the breadth and depth of discussion at the workshop. It should capture everything without elimination or pre-judgement so that, as far as possible, participants are able to see their individual contributions and be able to identify themselves strongly with the report. This can also be supported by including photographs of participants in the workshop, including any scans of drawings or key post-it notes, incorporating anonymous pre-work in an annex, and also including a list of participants and their contact details


In order to facilitate writing the event report it is worth ensuring that all written materials, flip charts and post-it notes are collected from the workshop and retained. Potential sections for the event report might include:


-          Introduction; building on workshop briefing materials distributed with invitations, and adding details about the event, such as; agenda, structure, and highlighting the diversity of attendees.

-          Key Problems Identified; summarising the outputs of the problem definition phase.

-          Key Solutions Identified; the 4-5 solutions identified at the end of the workshop mapped clearly against the key problems they are designed to solve.

-          Next Steps; possibly including the results of solution analysis and filtering in the project definition phase, as the circulation of the workshop report is a good opportunity to consult participants on the review of solutions after the event. 

-          Annexes

  • Broad list of solutions mapped against problems; the longer list of 2-3 solutions per group, mapped against their problems.
  • Contact list of event attendees, and their groupings.
  • Summary of event pre-work.
  • Scans of relevant drawings, flip charts and photographs.


The event report should be sent to all participants for comments. An event report, which has been socialised and agreed as an accurate record of proceedings, is a firm foundation for the remaining phases of the innovation process. Finally, the event report should be suitable for distribution to potential stakeholders who didn’t attend the event e.g. policy markers or potential funders of emerging solutions.


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Dos and Don’ts


Do map out a clear time for each exercise.


Do use an experienced facilitator. Good facilitators manage the day skilfully through the agenda, keeping to time and encouraging an energetic and open discussion around the problems and solutions.

Do ensure that the problems identified are not too complex or multifaceted. If they are then break them down into smaller sub-problems.

Focus on quantity, rather than quality of ideas. The evaluation of ideas comes at a later stage and by focusing on quantity, the participants are encouraged to continue making new connections and generating more ideas. 

Do retain all written material, including Post-it notes and flip charts, at the end of the event to develop the event report

Do take photographs of the event. These are excellent for the workshop report – for those who could not attend to get a feel for the scale and style of the event, and also for those who attended to reinforce their participation and identification with the outputs. 

Don’t shortcut the problem definition phase of the event and progress to solution generation too early. 

Don’t allow solutions or technologies to be mentioned in the problem stages – it is critical that problem definitions are not influenced by solutions. 

Avoid the natural tendency to over-consolidate lots of solutions together into less focused, more complex solutions or programmes.  


Key Questions to Think About


  • What tools and prompts are necessary to support group exercises?
  • How best to punctuate and separate problem analysis from solution creation?
  • How best to prevent the consideration about technology until the right time?
  • How best to use the time most effectively and keep momentum and energy high?
  • How best to allow some challenge and refinement of ideas without criticism?


© City of London 2010