At CREATORS, we often start our projects with a challenge-creation phase. Our partners do not always think this is a necessary step. “We know what our challenges are” — we’ve heard many times. When we request this information, we often end up getting a general “Market Research” strategy that describes vague opportunities in the market or the latest technology trends. Or occasionally — a list of product ideas that a company wants to sub-contract. Oftentimes, the “challenges” from corporations are either too broad (“AI in FinTech”) or very narrow (“blockchain-enabled payment system for product XYZ”). In this blogpost, we want to share our lessons learned from creating perfect corporate challenges.
We have seen it all — “Challenge” programs that talk about vague, wide topics (e.g. “Smart Delivery Experience”), those that simply discuss the general vertical (e.g. “we are interested in top-notch packaging solutions”) or even those that straight away ask for a solution (e.g. “we are inviting companies to create a software that will manage the building permit process from point A to B”). From our experience, this is not the way to go. When shared with the world, such “challenges” either extremely limit the potential search (so that you basically get the same thing over and over again) or leave these corporations overflown with irrelevant applications.
WHAT IS INNOVATION?
My colleague Roy Zaban, the Head of GovTech at CREATORS, has recently shared his thoughts about how to understand the purpose of innovation that will support (and not confuse or disperse) company’s innovation activities. In his article, Roy defines innovation as “solving the greatest challenges in the simplest way for the end user”. By “the simplest way” he does not mean easy to create or uncomplicated in its technology. He means that even the most complex technology should be packaged in a way that is as user-friendly as it gets. If we create a complex solution to a complex problem, it will not be sustainable — the users only do what is really easy for them to handle. If we think about minor challenges, solving them will not bring significant value (I like to compare it to the vitamin as opposed to the medicine).
The definition of “innovation” is important because it helps us focus on the “right” challenges — not to narrow and not too broad. Once we know that we are heading to solve significant challenges, our direction for further work should already be clearer.
HOW TO BUILD A CHALLENGE?
When defining a challenge, it may be useful to answer these questions (courtesy of Roy Zaban):
1. What is the problem you are facing?
2. What are the leading causes of the problem?
3. What are the effects of the problem on (your team/organization/market/customers…)?
Once you have the answers to these questions, you can check the assumptions you may have about the challenge and define the target audience. You can see who the stakeholders are and whether the problem is indeed “significant” — writing all of this information down and sending to your colleagues for remarks helps a lot.
Based on this preliminary work, we can then go to researching the market and checking all the assumptions vis-à-vis existing solutions. Eventually, what we want to create is a complex challenge brief that answers the following questions:
- What is the challenge/problem/need?
- What is the current situation? How is the problem solved at the moment (if at all)?
- How would the “perfect world” look like following solving the problem?
- Who are the stakeholders who experience this problem?
- What is currently happening in the market? (a short overview to see if we are not missing a potential solution or other important market information)
- What should problem solvers take into account? (if relevant)
When going through such process, you get to the core of the challenge and you’re able to make sure that YOU understand it well enough as well. This approach helps to get the right solutions, but also makes it easier to implement them later on.
Below you can find one example of a challenge we have created for an innovation sprint with the United Nations Development Program in North Macedonia. It contains all the information any startup will need to see if they have (or can create) the right solution. I hope you’ll find it helpful!
Challenge: Elderly residents have difficulties to access social and medical services, they often lack social interaction and get lonely.
Short description: Elderly residents need support and assistance in their daily activities since many of them live alone, and have difficulties getting out of their homes. The authorities do not have enough human resources to deliver social services to a population that stays at home and it is difficult for them to get regular updates about the residents’ personal needs and current status. On top of that, senior citizens often feel lonely and do not have enough interactions with others, particularly if they live in secluded areas.
How can we support the senior citizens or manage the efforts of individuals and NGOs helping them in order to ensure better access to needed services?
Current state: Many elderly residents need support and assistance in their daily activities. These include medical and social services. This challenge is even more significant when it comes to disabled people, who have difficulties getting out of their homes.
The municipalities have difficulties to provide social services for elderly residents for two main reasons:
1. Lack of human resource that will provide the services. Although the reforms in the Law on Social Protection enable the delivery of services by authorized citizen associations, there are difficulties to deliver services to a broad population that tends to stay at home.
2. Lack of information regarding the residents’ personal needs and current status. Currently, municipalities receive the information about senior citizens’ needs and issues from open days with residents, citizen and NGO requests, and by cooperating with institutions that work with elderly residents. However, the gathered information is not always updated and adjusted to the specific needs of every resident. Also, there is a difficulty to stay updated regarding which resident was visited, what services were provided, and updated needs.
Some programs exist which focus on organizing social activities. NGOs or municipal organizations manage these programs. In Strumica, volunteers of the Red Cross visit elderly residents as a part of the project “home care for the elderly”.
In Veles, organizations such as the Association of Retirees, the municipal organization of Red Cross Veles, and municipal organization of women retirees are involved in such programs. For example, in the “home care for the elderly” program in Veles, volunteers visited 60 elderly residents at home assisting with medical issues and daily activities. In addition, the municipality has prepared a plan to develop an interactive map which will include all the lonely elderly residents in the city, so that programs can be developed to assist them by volunteers, NGOs, etc.
Involved stakeholders: Red Cross, volunteers, elderly residents and their families, NGOs and municipal organizations (Association of Retirees, the municipal organization of Red Cross Veles, municipal organization of women retirees), municipality.
Desired outcome: Provide innovative services to elderly residents that stay at home in an efficient way. Provide relevant services based on the elderly persons’ personal needs. Streamline service delivery without increasing human resource, but including volunteering services.
Things to think about:
· Elderly residents tend to have low technological skills. They might not be the users of the solution.
· There are existing programs that can be harnessed for the solutions.
· Understanding how to manage the needs of the elderly population can be a key for efficient allocation of the involved organizations.
· The solution may address one or a few aspects of the challenge, e.g. creating a better way to distribute volunteers and make sure that the elderly population gets regular visits from them can be a great start. Another potential direction could be creating tech tools to encourage more people to volunteer with the elderly, for instance by showing them the needed support in their neighborhood.