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The Innovation Process
Activity 5.1 A

Assess project feasibility

This activity will help assess your learning objectives and potential contextual and resource constraints that might impact results.

One of the first things you need to do when planning a pilot is to carry out a realistic assessment of the feasibility of your plans and the resources that will be required to carry them out. Too often, innovators underestimate the likelihood of failure, and the time, effort and budget required to succeed.

The “planning fallacy” is a phenomenon that affects everyone. Since it was first proposed by Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky (1979) numerous studies have shown just how bad people are at estimating the time, costs and risks associated with future actions (Buehler, Griffin and Ross, 1994). This all-too-often results in project overruns and cost overruns. To avoid this fate – or, at least, to minimise the extent of your likely error! – you need to pay close attention to feasibility and forecasting.

The majority of humanitarian innovations will have a service element to them. Even if you consider your innovation to be a physical or digital product, it will likely be used as part of a service, require a service to supply the product, and/or require services for maintenance and support. As your pilot will need to test the service elements of your innovation, you should make sure that you have mapped out exactly how this will work and identified any potential issues.

As you start to develop a clearer picture of how your pilot will be structured, you will also need to assess the resources that you will require. This process is doubly difficult when doing something new, as it is for planning a project with more familiar parameters. There will be lots of new components or activities that you and your organisation may not be used to implementing, so an accurate forecast of resource requirements is vital for reducing the risk of failure.

Feasibility Blueprint

The Service Design Toolkit contains two tools to help you visualise and map the service elements of your innovation and determine the roles and requirements of the implementing team, support functions, and wider organisation during the pilot.

The first tool outlines the steps in the delivery of the service, from the perspective of users, field staff (described as ‘front office’) and operational teams (described as ‘back office’). It will help you to think through how each actor will be triggered to engage with the service, how they will use it, and how they will re-use it or end their use.

The second tool will help you to build on the touch points, interactions and underlying processes that you have identified as necessary for the service to work, thinking through what parts of the service you will want to implement and evaluate through the pilot. This can only be used after developing the first blueprint.

Reference Class Forecasting

Reference Class Forecasting is a method you can apply to ensure that you are as accurate as possible in your planning, from the perspectives of quality, budget, time and resources.

Most project teams come up with a forecast for how long the pilot will take based on the funding timeline of a grant or contract. They will also estimate the budget, the people needed, and any other resources required based on what they think they can raise. To avoid the common tendency to underestimate the time and resources you will require, Reference Class Forecasting can be used to improve the objectivity of your analysis.

The idea is to learn how similar projects have fared in the past and base your forecast on the actual performance of this ‘reference class’ of comparable projects, thereby avoiding both the optimism bias and the potential for misrepresentation. Even if you are working on an innovation and you cannot identify many similar projects, there are usually some that can help to guide you. To do this properly can take a lot of time and effort and expense. However, a quick method is possible.

The first area of reference is to identify projects that are similar in terms of type, and then find out how they did against their original plans. For example, if you are looking at building an information management system, there have been other such systems built before. If you have gone through a good Search process, you will have identified systems that may be similar. You can then try to interview people involved on those projects to get a sense of time, cost, resources required to deliver it.

The second area of reference is to identify projects in the context that you will be implementing your pilot. Speak to people running similar or analogous projects to understand whether contextual and environmental factors, such as security, logistical, weather patterns etc. created delays or extra costs. By developing a reference class of projects for the type of innovation, and a reference class of projects for the location, you can draw the lessons from both to design a much more feasible and robust pilot project design.