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Every innovation starts out as complex, knotty problems with a solution that seems nearly unimaginable. By iterating the user-centered innovation loop, the idea will slowly be brought to shape. The idea development journey provides a structure and process for identifying, testing and transforming promising concepts into sustainable solutions. By prototyping early and often, the organization can let go of bad ideas at an early stage before putting in too much resources into them. Organizations that excel at continuously generating innovations over time are cultivating their capacity to innovate and they have a designed pathway for how ideas are nurtured and developed within their organization.

Social Innovation Booster Idea Development Journey
The idea development journey

New ideas travel through the idea development journey, starting out with a lot of unknown factors, and narrowing down the more you learn about the users, their needs, the value proposition and the business model. It is a useful framework when you are just about to start a new business and need some structure and a roadmap for how to develop it over time.

1. Defining the purpose, gap and opportunity

Too many ideas will dilute your focus and resources. To decide what idea to move forward with, you need to invest some initial time to explore the purpose of it. What change do you wish to see or what problem do you care about solving? Why is that important to you? What unique skills or assets do you have at your disposal, maybe from your background or based on your interests that make you capable of solving this problem?

Exploring the Gap and the Opportunity

In the discovery phase, you need to understand the gap and the opportunity connected to your purpose. This is done with the help of your potential users. WHO is having the problem that you are addressing? What is lacking in their existing solutions, and what would make them use your solution instead? What are their needs, pain points, and gain points? By empathizing with your target audience you will be able to answer these questions.

Market research such as surveys and big data analysis are useful tools. However, for understanding how to create something that is valuable for the users, that doesn't yet exist in the market, you need to use qualitative research methods. Quantitative methods help you with big trends, the “what” while qualitative methods help you with the “why” and “how”.

Qualitative research methods let you gain an in-depth understanding of the gap and the opportunity from your potential users’ point of view. By conducting semi-structured interviews, you are able to encourage your respondents’ stories with open-ended questions, and a lots of "Why, where, how, when..." You are collecting insights, not statistics.

This semi-structured interviewing technique can be a bit tricky to learn. If you feel insecure, ask for help from a service designer or someone who is used to working with this method. But if you are willing to learn this technique, you will learn it with some practice. It will be one of your most useful techniques during your entire business journey.

Evaluating the Service Concept

Your Service Concept doesn’t need to be advanced or take a long time to create. What is more important is to quickly create something that you can bring to your users, get their reactions, and go back and adjust. The simpler and more sketchy it is, the more open will it be for the users to co-create, and imagine their own version of it. Also, the more simple the service concept is, the more open will YOU be for changing your ideas. There are many ways of evaluating your Service Concept at different stages; live prototypes, co-creation sessions etc.

Phase 2. Designing the service

In the service design phase, you will co-create your service together with your users with the ultimate goal of creating a minimum lovable service. There are many different techniques for this, semi-structured interviewing, using trigger material, live prototypes or hosting co-creational events. Depending on the nature of your service and your goal you will choose techniques that suit your purpose. . etc. to empathize with your users and to prototype and co-create your service together with your users. You will also benefit from creating a Customer Journey Map to get an overview of how to develop the customer experience.

Phase 3. Designing the business

In the commercialization phase, you will mainly focus on creating a sustainable business model. The business model is the description of how the idea will generate value for the customers as well as for the organization. A good business model should align with the organization's goals, as well as it needs to be robust and self-reinforcing. You probably already had a hypothesis of the business model, but in this phase you’ll use the design thinking loop to prototype the price point and different aspects of the business model.

Phase 4. Evaluating the impact

By the time you reach the growth and scaling phase, you are ready to plan how to achieve the positive impact that you are striving for. You have your minimum lovable service, a viable business model. Now is the time to create your impact strategy, which will consist of your Marketing and Content strategy as well as a fuller version of the Theory of Change. In this phase, the theory of change will serve as a roadmap that outlines the steps you need to take to achieve the positive impact that you are striving for. It also identifies the underlying assumptions in each step, which allow you to spot any potential risk in the business model and serve as a foundation for your impact reporting to investors and other stakeholders.

The messy truth

As will all models, the idea development journey is a simplified version of the real world. In real life, the process might look more like this.

The phases will float into each other; you might need to design the business model simultaneously as you are designing the service and redefining your theory of change.

But I assure you, the more structured you are with designing how your idea matures from development to market entry, the more likely it is for it to succeed. Think big, start small, and relentlessly prototype toward the right solution and you will develop an organization with a high capacity to innovate.

Design your own Idea Development Journey

Organizations with effective idea development journeys:

  • Generate new ideas systematically

  • Test ideas using clearly articulated criteria, metrics, and methodologies

  • Prioritize and scale the highest potential ideas

Along with factors such as leadership, creating a curious culture and aiming for diversity in the teams, the idea development journey proved to be crucial for the ability to innovate, according to an article in Stanford Social Innovation review. Unfortunately few nonprofits have introduced such practices today, but it doesn’t take an overwhelming amount of planning to set up clear pathways and processes for surfacing, testing, and introducing new innovations.

Regardless where you are in your business journey, you can cultivate your capacity to innovate and design an idea development journey that suits your organization. If you need help in setting up your own idea development journey, you are welcome to join Social Innovation Booster's supportive community or join one of our Booster Programs for support.

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