Define the Challenge

After completing and validating your system maps, you will use these insights and visual representations to pinpoint leverage points. These leverage points are the places in the system where innovation can lead to significant system-wide changes. Leverage points hide in the system’s rules (such as policies or incentives), the system’s goals, or the mindset or paradigm from which the system arises. The range of leverage points can often surprise those involved, as they are sometimes obscure.

  • Select and Prioritize Leverage Points

Not all leverage points are equally effective, and some may be easier to influence than others. Prioritize your leverage points based on their potential impact and feasibility within the context of your program. Choosing leverage points outside your network’s influence, energy, or competencies will frustrate participants.

  • Formulate Clear Challenge Statements from Leverage Points

You might sometimes represent these as hypotheses, for example, “If we solve X, we anticipate Y as the outcome.” This framing will clarify why you are selecting these particular challenges for the broader network and how they fit into the context of the map you have created together.

  • Frame the Challenge for Participant Success

One organization alone will rarely be able to tackle a leverage point with a single solution. The collaboration that would need to take place may require out-of-the-box partnerships, but participants need incentives to form them. Finally, many leverage points involve power holders whose participation is necessary to effect change. Yet, participants are unlikely to have the necessary connections or influence with these individuals.

Scenario #1

No solution and no defined collaboration:  Organizations have the skills and influential roles within the system to impact a leverage point. However, the necessary solutions don’t exist. The innovation challenge will support organizations to collaborate and develop a solution together.

Scenario #2

Defined solution(s), but no collaboration: Organizations have existing solutions to address leverage points, but need partnerships to scale and create systems-level impact. The innovation challenge will support them to collaborate to achieve systems change.

Scenario #3

No solution, but existing collaborations:  Organizations within the system already collaborate. However, there are no existing solutions to the identified challenges. The innovation challenge will support the development of a shared solution. 

As the convener of an innovation challenge, you will possess a certain degree of power and influence to:

  • Structure your challenge to encourage collaboration
  • Advocate with power holders and involve them in the process

These aspects have yet to be central features of innovation contests and will require thoughtful design to execute.

Decisions that will set your direction

  • After identifying leverage points in the mapping process, who needs to be involved in selecting or prioritizing these points for the challenge’s focus?
  • Which of the identified leverage points can your innovation challenge realistically affect?
  • Based on the leverage points, how broadly will you define the challenge? Will you have multiple challenge statements?
  • Can you engage relevant power-holders in the challenge competition, ensuring the possibility of actual change?
  • Do you want participants to focus efforts on one leverage point (good for more targeted solutions) or allow flexibility for the solution to address multiple leverage points (good for more multifaceted solutions)?

People you will need to find your way

  • Systems Thinking Experts

It’s still helpful to have systems thinking experts at this process stage. Bring them together with those who have experience with open innovation challenges to grapple with defining the challenge.

  • Local experts

To decide which leverage points are most feasible and how to bring in power holders, you’ll need to have local experts as a guiding force.

  • Innovators

Co-Design with participants is a best practice. Innovators and potential challenge participants should participate in crafting and selecting challenge statements.

Review your plan for these critical elements

  • Have you selected impactful and feasible leverage points? Have local experts been consulted on the feasibility?
  • Does your challenge design incentivize the types of collaboration and partnerships that will impact these leverage points?
  • Do you have a strategy to influence or collaborate with power holders relevant to these leverage points?

See the warning signs first

  • Be realistic about which leverage points your innovation challenge can influence. To focus effort on impact, limit the number and scope of challenge statements that become part of the innovation challenge.
  • It’s very easy to do groundbreaking work in systems mapping and then slip into old paradigms of innovation competitions. Proceed cautiously!

These resources can help you on your journey

See the Example Challenge Statement Slide Deck for an example of a participatory exercise to determine the Challenge Statements – i.e., the goal of the challenge competition. Adapt the deck to create your own workshop, or choose a different method for moving from systems mapping and leverage points to Challenge Statements. Also, see the Challenge Statements created by AI4R example .

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