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The Innovation Process
Module 1.1

Initial Impressions

Identify a problem and produce a problem statement

The beginning of an innovation journey is often marked when a challenge presents itself in either problem symptoms or an opportunity.

In some cases, you might be set in motion by the frustration of business as usual, by products that don’t do the job properly, or by services that aren’t meeting needs. In other cases, you might be inspired to use your knowledge to meet opportunities presented by changes in the sector, or even those made possible through crisis. You might be tasked with a problem to solve as part of your job, or you might be interested in exploring something you’ve observed.

Whatever the case may be, innovators are united in their efforts to address something that isn’t working or could be made better. It’s up to you as an innovator to clearly articulate the need that you are seeking to address.

The success of Red R’s KnowledgePoint project was built on a strong foundation of research and collaboration exploring the challenges faced by emergency responders on the front line who frequently lacked access to quality, timely technical support.

The initiative for KnowledgePoint came from individuals involved in expert advisory services meeting independently at conferences, online, and at a subsequent dedicated meeting. An inception phase study to review options was commissioned, and representatives of humanitarian and development organisations interviewed about their technical support provision.

A good innovation process will seek to systematise the way that problems are identified and opportunities explored. It can be difficult to recognise – even at the most preliminary stage – the symptoms of a problem or the features of an opportunity, so there is sometimes a need to ‘jump-start’ this process. Even if you think you have a properly identified problem or opportunity, this module will help you refine and articulate your initial impressions.

Remember, if you are working on an opportunity-driven innovation, any potential solution should still be aimed at solving a well-defined problem. Take the time to carry out problem identification activities and be extremely wary of your biases towards your solution. As the saying goes, ‘If you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail’.

There are many ways that you might be inspired to start on the innovation journey.

  • You might uncover problems that have already been identified through programme reviews, evaluations, internal performance audits and after-action reports.
  • You might learn first-hand about positive and negative experiences by visiting offices or field sites, and talking to colleagues and community members, or by looking at complaints and feedback mechanisms.
  • You might find inspiration in examining the challenges, barriers and roadblocks that affect the overall performance of existing programmes or reflecting on your own experience.
  • You might exchange new ideas and thinking with colleagues from different organisations and across different sectors, and look to forge new partnerships.
  • You might discover niche opportunities by looking at key trends or changes in regulatory environments.
  • You might find inspiration in the emergence of new technologies, changes to the structure and processes of an organisation, or learning from an ongoing crisis.

The activities that follow will provide you with tools and guidance to intentionally explore a few of these areas for inspiration.

Note: You do not have to complete all the exercises in the module, although we certainly recommend that you carry out at least 2-3. There are exercises and tools in this section that will be useful to you throughout your innovation journey, and we will point back to them at later stages.


1.1 A Learn from evaluations and reports
This activity will help you to understand the problems and opportunities that have already been identified in relation to your area of interest.
1.1 B Assess strengths and weaknesses
The two exercises in this activity will help you understand the strengths and weaknesses of your organisation as a whole, and in particular parts of your organisation.
1.1 C Observe the problem
This field-based activity will help you to generate, capture and describe first-hand observations about existing services or experiences from the perspective of the user (front end) or service provider (back end).
1.1 D Understand users
The exercises in this activity will help you generate initial insights into the nature of the problem from the perspective of the user.
1.1 E Identify trends
The exercises in this activity will help you explore trends in your context or in the wider humanitarian sector that could create problems or opportunities.
1.1 F Break the dominant logic
This activity will help you assess and reconsider the dominant logic of why certain ways of working are considered important in the sector.
1.1 G Draft a problem statement
If you have clearly identified your problem, then it is time to develop a problem statement. This is an articulation of your initial understanding of the problem.