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The Innovation Process
Activity 2.3 B

Find the right expertise

This activity will guide you in finding individuals from diverse backgrounds to develop ideas in a creative workshop.

Complex problems often require divergent thinking in order to solve them. This is necessary when a problem has no single correct answer, and so requires a more inventive approach. The word ‘divergent’ literally means “to develop in different directions” and so divergent thinking requires a mix of people with different expertise and backgrounds.

Divergent thinking is open and creative, and aimed at generating fresh views and novel solutions. The Sandpit process is specifically designed to make it easy for people from all sectors to co-design and test new solutions to complex problems. Originally conceived by the UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), a Sandpit is a residential interactive workshop that takes place over several days and brings together a multidisciplinary mix of 20-30 participants to co-design solutions to complex problems.

The purpose of a Sandpit is to break out of the disciplinary ‘silos’ that hamper creative thinking. The methodology is designed to purposefully break down silos and enable a more creative approach to problem solving. But the quality of a Sandpit workshop is based on having the right mix of people in the room, so the first step is to search for the right collaborators. When seeking to identify participants, you first need to identify the roles required in the workshop. These might include:

  1. Problem owner/s: one or more individuals who are responsible for articulating the problem and answering questions about it.
  2. Facilitator/s: skilled ideation workshop facilitators who manage the process.
  3. Subject matter experts: experts in the core subject, including enough to understand the complexity of the problem space, but not so many that it leads to narrow thinking and semantic debates that sap creative energy.
  4. Adjacent field experts: experts from adjacent disciplines or markets who have contact with the problem but from a completely different perspective, for example, involving public health experts or water utility company engineers to address a water filtration problem in a refugee camp.
  5. Creative experts: people who are experienced in disciplines such as design, behavioural change etc.
  6. Provocateurs: people who have the particular role of stimulating and challenging group thinking through presentations or critiques of their work.

It is essential that you have representation from partners who are able to think through any solution in terms of potential risks or challenges and provide an ethical and responsible steer.  It is also important to take a longer-term view and think about partners for sustainability and scale. All participants should contribute particular expertise and should be able to work in a collaborative and open-minded way, so it may be necessary to put in place a selection process to ensure suitability.

Further inspiration

T Collins, M Kearney,  D Maddison (2013) The Ideas Lab Concept, Assembling the Tree of Life, and AVAToL
Case study detailing use of the ‘sandpit’ approach including useful information on roles and structure