Do This, Not That: Crowdsourcing a New Blueprint for Innovation Competitions
In late October 2023, we attended the annual SOCAP Global conference, which convenes investors, entrepreneurs, and leaders across the social impact investing world to tackle today’s toughest challenges. Our delegate-led session, Learnings From Innovation Competitions: Developing Better Models for Systems-level Change, quickly set the stage on the topic before jumping into group discussions to crowd-source insights.
The 24 participants were divided into small groups to discuss a three-part question:
What should we …stop, start, and continue… doing to foster more inclusive, sustainable, and collaborative innovation for systems-level change?
As they moved around the room, spending 10 minutes at each Stop, Start, and Continue poster, they built their group’s discussion on what the previous ones had written out in sticky notes. At the end, we came together to share briefly the outputs from each group’s last question. Below are summary points that resulted from their conversations:
- Designing competitions from a singular lens, with a one-size-fits-all approach, or without involvement from communities directly impacted.
- Being vague and unclear about roles (participants, judge, mentor, etc.) and what is offered in return for participation.
- Creating unreasonable timelines and expectations for applications, proposals, reporting, and success metrics.
- Promoting Shark Tank™ style pitches as the only winning criteria.
- Pitting participants against each other.
- Narrowing the field by only funding traditional business models and the “usual suspects.”.
- Pursuing/picking only one solution to address many problems.
- Prioritizing and/or requiring partnerships and collaboration.
- Applying systems innovation tools (e.g., stakeholder and systems mapping) and sharing the results.
- Providing planning and capacity-building support for the long-term sustainability of the winning innovation(s).
- Reframing how time can be used as an asset rather than a constraint (e.g., allocate more time to understanding the problem and adapting to uncertainty).
- Providing tailored support, capacity building, and funding depending on where the participant is with their innovation.
- Building a network/community for learning and resource sharing.
- Ideating early and quickly and testing often to learn.
- Refining the structure of funding mechanisms (i.e., blended finance) and their criteria.
- Diversifying the use of other design and research approaches (e.g., human-centered and service design).
- Creating spaces that are safe, welcoming, and inclusive (as determined by the community-led code of conduct).
We appreciate the participants whose engagement and lively discussion made it all the more valuable! We look forward to continuing the conversation and together moving the needle on making innovation competitions more inclusive, sustainable, and collaborative.
We also recognize that our SOCAP session was simply a jumping-off point and not intended to be comprehensive of the innovation challenge landscape. Pop open one of our blogs on How to Run a Great Open Innovation Competition? and Setting the Bar for Systems-Informed Solutions to read what we’ve learned about how an innovation competition might be better designed to enable systems-level change.