Systems Innovation Phase 3 - Activate

Test Solutions

Testing and experimentation are crucial in innovation and systems thinking methodologies. These disciplines enable participants to improve the practicality and robustness of their approaches.

One effective tool commonly used in innovation is the canvas approach. Canvas tools, such as the Business Model Canvas or Lean Canvas, provide a simple visual map that helps individuals understand the key elements of a business. Organizations have adopted these formats for social innovations and solutions beyond traditional for-profit businesses. Their emphasis on testing different solution elements in real-world, dynamic environments makes them particularly suitable for systems change. In other words, with the people who make up the actual systems! 

During this phase, participants identify their assumptions about what will happen when implementing their innovation. Your goal is to help participants evaluate if their expected outcome is the one they actually achieve. The key is to support participants to identify their riskiest assumptions and help them devise clever, cost-effective ways to mitigate those assumptions.

While prototyping physical and digital products has long been embraced in the innovation sector, it has expanded rapidly to creatively prototype less tangible solutions, including services, spaces, relationships, and even policies or social movements.

Systems thinking can enhance the prototyping process by engaging the robust network you have recruited and using stakeholder mapping to determine who should be involved in testing various solution elements.

Decisions that will set your direction

  • What tools will you use to test and prototype solutions?
  • As with other human-centered design methodologies, prototyping methods may be new to participants. How will you balance capacity building for participants with the time needed to implement tests and prototypes?
  • How will you leverage your network and use stakeholder mapping to ensure robust participation in testing solutions?
  • What types of resources will you provide to participants to test solutions?
  • How will you leverage the time-bound nature of the competition to help participants achieve milestones and iterate quickly?
  • Will you incorporate testing as part of the competition judging? How will participants demonstrate progress on their solutions to the judges?

People you will need to find your way

  • Coaches & Mentors

You’ll need coaches and mentors with experience prototyping solutions for services and programs, not just physical products. They’ll also need to be comfortable with simple systems thinking tools and frameworks. Coaches and mentors should have fluency with these tools if they use a canvas approach.

  • Champions and Super Connectors

You’ll need your champions and super connectors in your network to help recruit relevant stakeholders for testing solutions. These super connectors can also support participating teams with relationships with prospective partners, funders, vendors, or stakeholders.

Review your plan for these critical elements

  • Have you consulted participants and coaches on how much time might be needed to do testing?
  • Have you kept the broader network informed and updated on the challenge?
  • How will you engage anyone interested in being involved in testing?

See the warning signs first

  • Watch out for misaligned methods: Be sure to provide a quick orientation for coaches and mentors on how you’re adapting using canvas tools, prototyping methods, and stakeholder mapping. There are countless versions of these tools and techniques. Ensure everyone aligns before meeting with participants.
  • Tools designed for innovation need to be adapted: Tools from the innovation and start-up world are a great place to start! However, entrepreneurs and design thinkers did not create these innovative tools for global development or humanitarian programs. Adapt any canvas and prototyping tools with your audience and geographic context in mind.

These resources can help you on your journey

  • If you are using a solution canvas approach, you can adapt these materials from GKI’s Accelerating Innovation for Resilience Bangladesh to guide your Testing and Prototyping efforts: Presentation, Facilitation Guide, and Worksheet.
  • Check out the University of Liberal Art Bangladesh and their experience using assumption testing with the support of mentors in this case study.

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