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The Innovation Process
Activity 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.

Each of the methods in this activity area entail varying degrees of risk. We highlight some key things to consider for all the sections below, and then reiterate some more specific issues under each of the methods.

Note: Innovators should be focusing on capturing (documenting descriptive data, highlighting relevant findings) and synthesising (distilling) information, ie, not yet analysing or interpreting information (which is for the Root Causes and Contributing Factors module).

Desk review

First, drawing from the activity above, you’ll need to go out and collect relevant studies, reports, or other materials. You can carry out open-source research on the web, by using a search engine (like Google) to query a set of key search terms related to your topic.

You might also start by researching relevant thematic ‘community of practice’ forums, think tanks, and other online repositories to generate information on your topic. Finally, you might consider looking up (or even reaching out to!) widely cited scholars or practitioners on your topic, since it is likely that they have a consistent body of work in their particular areas of expertise.

Next, you’ll need to annotate and synthesise the information from the studies, reports or other materials you’ve found.

See also

Learn from evaluations and reports


While the selection of interviewees, development of questionnaires, and generation and transcription of interview data is not meant to be as robust as would be in the case of a formal study, you will still have to make informed decisions around (1) who you will talk to, (2) for what purpose, and (3) what kinds of information you’d like to learn.

We therefore recommend carrying out interviews after you’ve identified relevant stakeholders to speak to and drafted a plan detailing your questions and approach.

Examples of rapid-inquiry interviews can include reaching out to experts or practitioners involved in existing interventions or delivery of services that relate to your problem area (such interviews are a great way to get a sense of what works, what doesn’t, and why.)

You might also want to leverage interviews to speak directly with potential end-users of your solution, who may be end-users of an existing (perhaps underperforming) service or product. This helps generate first-hand knowledge with regard to problems and/or opportunities.

Further inspiration

IDEO. Interview, Design Kit.
General interview guidance

IDEO. Expert Interview, Design Kit.
Expert interview guidance

Harvard University. Strategies for Qualitative Interviews
In-depth reading on qualitative interviews

Focus Group Discussions

Focus group discussions (FGDs) can be an excellent way to generate information and insights, as well as see where there is agreement in a group and where there are disagreements on the topic you want to discuss.

It can be a quicker way of gaining insights than trying to interview the same number of people individually. However, you will need to run three to four FGDs to make sure that you can have homogeneous groups in each FGD. This is important to make sure that groups are comfortable discussing issues with each other. For example, don’t run an FGD with a mix of adults and children, or in some contexts with women and men.

Running three or four FGDs requires skilled facilitation, and a significant amount of preparation. Make sure that the location of the FGD is a comfortable and safe place and at a convenient time for participants.

Further inspiration

Data Innovation Project (2017) Guidelines for Conducting a Focus Group.
A good in-depth guide on running focus group discussions

IDEO. Group Interview, Design Kit.
A brief guide to group interviews; more appropriate when discussing the FGDs with work colleagues

Observation tour

There are different ways that you might capture first-hand observations of the delivery of humanitarian programmes and the experience of those involved. Consider some of the following options:

  • Peer-to-peer observation: looking at how other actors might be tackling this problem
  • Non-participant observation: just observe what happens in a process or situation
  • Shadowing: follow the ‘problem holder’ around while they are dealing with the problem (to be used with humanitarian staff)

See also

Observe the problem