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The Innovation Process
Module 1.2

Starting Point Assessment

Quickly gather and categorise information about your problem

Once you have a good idea of the potential problem to solve or opportunity to respond to, the next step is to establish a baseline of existing knowledge regarding the ‘problem area’.

We call this the Starting Point Assessment because the activities in this module encourage you to bring together relevant, readily-available information in order to understand the environment you are stepping into.

The journey towards new and improved solutions should start with a current assessment of the problem, the existing approaches used to address it, and the context in which they occur.

“Innovating teams … identified ‘research on the problem’ as a key factor that could have assisted the innovation in its early stages, primarily in making a stronger case for innovation to external stakeholders.”  (Obrecht and Warner, 2016)

This module aims to help you generate useful information on these important areas. The point is not to ‘overdo’ it – but instead to rapidly gather enough information to make a ‘good enough’ assessment of the problem. The focus of this research ought to be determined on a case-by-case basis, according to what sort of information is needed.

Understanding the baseline of existing knowledge will bring you closer toward a proper diagnosis of the root causes of a problem and the factors that contribute to it, helping you to move beyond the presenting symptoms.

A good-enough analysis will strengthen your problem diagnosis through the collection and use of different kinds of relevant information, and by bringing you closer to those who are facing challenges and might benefit from new solutions.

This module will help you to reach a deeper, more holistic understanding of the problem, and will provide you (and other relevant stakeholders, such as operational partners and/or donors) with useful baseline information by which to evaluate the impact of the solution you develop later on in the innovation journey.

It will enable you to develop criteria for things to pay attention to (priority areas, concerns, questions, etc) later in the process, and prevent you from wasting time in trying to solve the wrong problem for the wrong people.

Setting out to gather information can be a daunting task. Luckily, there’s a guide to help you! Answering the following questions will set you on the right track:

  • Ready: Which kinds of knowledge are relevant at the outset of my project, and which are not?
  • Set: What do we already know or feel confident about? What kinds of knowledge are readily available?
  • Go! How can we generate, gather and collect information to fill gaps in existing knowledge?

Note: We recommend that for this module you complete all of the activities sequentially. 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 in different parts of the Guide.


1.2 A Understand key research concepts
This primer is aimed at familiarising you with some key concepts and frameworks that you will need to draw upon during the rest of the module.
1.2 B Establish what is known
This activity will help you understand what people in your team or across your organisation already know about a problem and existing efforts to solve it.
1.2 C Identify outstanding questions
This activity will help you to identify and prioritise your outstanding questions – your known unknowns – and the best way to rapidly gather reliable information on each of them.
1.2 D Answer outstanding questions
This activity involves carrying out desk reviews, interviews and focus group discussions, and direct observations to answer the questions you have identified in the previous activity.