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The Innovation Process
Activity 1.2 B

Establish what you know

The aim of this activity is to understand what people in your team or across your organisation already know about a problem and existing efforts to solve it.

As individuals you may only know a little about the problem, but as a wider group you will often know a significant amount about the problem. We call these ‘unknown knowns‘ – the things that you don’t know that other members of your team do know.

This exercise is designed to make this information about the problem known to everyone in the group. We like Frog Design’s ‘Knowledge Hunt’ approach to exposing these unknown knowns. We have suggested tweaks to the exercise in the instructions below.

Things to consider

  • Make sure you review any accountability or feedback mechanisms that might provide insights into how the disaster-affected population experience the problem.
  • Remember that ‘knowledge is power’. Even among staff and partners there might be power issues, and in conflict settings there might be people who identify or are identified with different actors in the conflict. It is vital to set a tone that provides equality and inclusion in the process, while also ensuring that any answers are backed with credible evidence.
  • Make sure you establish if there is a sector or cluster lead related to your problem area, either in your context, or globally.
  • Make sure you know if there any specific humanitarian standards that are relevant to your problem area.

Unknown Knowns


First, drawing from your new understanding of the three Knowledge Areas (problem; context; past and current efforts) and how to formulate exploratory and evaluative research questions, independently write down a list of research questions that you’d like to have answered. Everyone in the group should write 2 or 3 questions on sticky notes (this should take about 5–10 minutes).

Next, share your questions with the rest of the group, going around the table; just present them, and move on to the next person. At this point, someone should collect the questions and place them on the Knowledge Map Venn diagram on a wall where everyone can see. (Either print out the temaplate provided in A1 size, or draw it onto flipchart paper.)

After the questions are up on the wall, the group should gather around the wall and try to answer as many questions as possible – the more diverse your team is, the more likely you’ll be able to answer the exploratory and evaluative questions about context, challenge, and past efforts.

Answers should be based on evidence! If anyone thinks they know an answer to a question posed, they should feel free to share with a group and if the group is confident it is an answer with evidence behind it, they write down the answer directly on the sticky note.

Take stock of what has been answered. Those questions should be left on the Knowledge Map. These are your ‘known knowns‘ (what you know), and your ‘unknown knowns‘ (what others in your team and organisation know).

Remove the remaining questions – those that the group can’t confidently answer – and place them on a new Knowledge Map. These will be prioritised in the following activity when you will figure out how your team will generate the information needed to answer the questions.

Further resources

Frog Design (2016) Collective Action Toolkit.
[See p 22 for Knowledge Hunt exercise]