Prompts and Inspirations
All innovations start with a central idea. But the idea itself is often prompted by an experience or event or new evidence which brings to light a social need or injustice. Some organisations initiate the prompts themselves - using feedback systems to identify possible problems. Creative leaders can use symbols and demonstrations to prompt social imagination. In many cases, research, mapping and data collection are used to uncover problems, as a first step to identifying solutions.
One of the critical challenges at this stage though is identifying the right problem. A good problem contains within it the seeds of the solution. The trick is in framing the question. Like medicine, the key issue in social policy is one of diagnosis, of going beyond the symptom to the cause. As Curitiba’s Jaime Lerner explains, a problem of parking is merely a reflection of a problem in the public transport system. In such a case seeking solutions to the wrong problem can often make them worse. In other cases, it is a matter of breaking down a general problem into manageable bits, of getting down to the actionable parts.
The prompts are triggers for action. They may take the form of imperatives; that some action is needed without specifying what that action is, for example a budget crisis or a natural disaster. Such prompts are closely linked to problem recognition, and the myriad ways in which a problem comes to light and commands attention. Once the problem is recognised, it needs to be interrogated, and contextualised. This is the process of re-formulating the problem in such a way as to stimulate workable solutions. Those running ideas competitions for the crowd sourcing of innovations say that it is the stage of framing a good question which is the key to the competition’s success.
All of the methods that follow are not only prompts, but also steps towards refining the question and generating a solution.