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The Innovation Process
Activity 2.3 A

Find the most affected people

This activity will guide you in finding those individuals who are most impacted by the problem, and have the most to gain from a solution, in order to work with them on developing a solution.

Sometimes a problem affects people so severely that they will likely have already tried out a number of ideas in response, creating simple prototypes which can be refined and improved with specialist support. The Lead User method was developed to help identify and work with people at the front of a growing trend.

For example, internally-displaced people (IDP) living on marginal land may be much more vulnerable to the early effects of climate change than members of a host community living on arable and productive land that is safe from floods and other such emergencies. Within the IDP community there may be individuals at even greater risk of climate threats due to their particular situation. These people are at the forefront of climate change impact and therefore stand to benefit most from new solutions.

By identifying such people in a crisis-affected community and engaging them in the Invention stage, you will be able to gain deep insights into the nature of the problem, and the value of potential solutions. Some may even be ‘positive deviants’ who have designed their own solutions that you might help develop. This has clear parallels with Eric von Hippel’s idea of ‘free innovation’ that John Bessant discuses in a blog for Hype Innovation; this refers to innovations that have their origins in the experience of frustrated problem-holders.

Lead user method

To pursue the Lead User method, your starting point is to develop a profile for your Lead User. This might be similar to profiles that you developed in the Recognition stage, but with additional consideration for reasons why they are affected by the issue more significantly than other people, and the additional benefits a solution might bring them. These are then turned into a list of characteristics or criteria that you believe Lead Users will display.

A characteristic of Lead Users that would place them at the forefront of a market would be that they are invested enough to modify existing solutions to make them more fit-for-purpose. For example, those living in an IDP camp that have made a modification to the shelter that they have been provided with.

After you have developed your criteria, you will need to carry out a search for people who fulfil the criteria. Once you have identified your Lead Users, you will then move into the Invent stage to design a workshop or other interactive methodology to facilitate collaborative ideation.

The people most affected by a crisis can of course also be the most vulnerable. Due attention needs to be paid to the dynamics in-context of bringing together your Lead Users and how to mitigate any risks involved.  This will also be highly dependent on the nature of your problem and the solutions you are searching for.

Further inspiration

R.Otto (2017) Innovation in flood resilience in Indonesia: Learning from a two-track innovation proces
Learning from a HIF-funded project implementing the Lead User method to find flood resilience solutions in the Philippines

M Goeldner, DJ Kruse & C Herstatt (2017) Lead User Method vs. Innovation Contest – An Empirical Comparison of Two Open Innovation Methodologies for Identifying Social Innovation for Flood Resilience in Indonesia
Learning from a comparison between a HIF-funded project implementing the Lead User method and an innovation contest

C Herstatt & E von Hippel (1992) From experience: Developing new product concepts via the lead user method: A case study in a “low-tech” field
Original article detailing practical steps to implementing the Lead User method in the construction sector