Don’t focus on 'great ideas', focus on great challenges

Innovate to Save’s 'Identifying Challenges' workshop was geared towards helping participants understand the importance of considering the challenges and opportunities they’re looking to tackle ahead of generating ideas for improving services or creating savings.

In this post, we share some top tips and resources from that workshop. 

Why identifying challenges is important

Taking a challenge-based approach helps us to understand whether an idea is likely to tackle systemic issues or just the symptoms of them. More NGOs, government departments and city governments are using challenge driven innovation – such as challenge prizes – to help develop new products and services which ‘solve’ a problem they have identified.

Increasing awareness of the effectiveness of this approach is typified by challenge-based prizes such as the Longitude Prize, (a challenge with a £10 million prize fund to reward development of a diagnostic test that helps solve the problem of global antibiotic resistance) and the European Social Innovation Competition (a €150,000 European Commission prize for the three best ideas to help ensure everyone in Europe benefits from the opportunities created by technological change).

Top 5 tips for identifying challenges

So, how do you know you’ve got a great challenge?  Here are our top five tips:

  1. Start with a question. In our case we asked: What are the key problems facing public services in Wales?

  2. Investigate the causes and the symptoms of the problem. Are they easy to identify? Do some causes also present as symptoms, and vice versa?

  3. Consider the barriers to solving the problem – are they issues that are easy to resolve?

  4. Consider what solutions are out there that could have an impact on breaking down the barriers? Where are the gaps? Where are the opportunities?

  5. Devise a challenge statement that will frame the problem you are looking to address

Top tools / resources to help identify challenges

There are a large number of tools and methods that can help you develop a good challenge.  Here are some that we think work particularly well:

  • Causes Diagram: A tool to help map causes and symptoms of a problem. 

  • 5 Whys: An effective technique to uncover underlying causes of problems.

  • Y Lab Problem Cards & Explore worksheet: a tool to help clarify what the problem / challenge is and the opportunities that arise from tackling it.
  • Evidence Planning Tool: An effective way to define and share what it is that you’re trying to do, and the assumptions and evidence upon which this is based.

More about the workshop and Innovate to Save

Innovate to Save has been set up to support new ideas that have the potential to generate cashable savings for Welsh public services and improve the quality of service delivery. The programme places as much emphasis on providing the right support and tools to develop robust project proposals as it does the funds to allow organisations to achieve change.

During phase one of the programme, the support on offer takes the form of a series of workshops that have been designed to support different parts of the application form to participate in the R&D phase of Innovate to Save.

The slides from this workshop can be found here.

If you’d like to find out more about the workshops or the Innovate to Save programme, please get in touch:

Angharad: [email protected] / 029 2251 0320

Pippa: [email protected]


Angharad Dalton

Angharad Dalton

Angharad Dalton

Programme Manager, Y Lab

Angharad was the Programme Manager for Innovate to Save.

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