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Proposals and ideas

Asking the right question is the first step to finding the right answer. But once the right question has been framed, there are then a series of methods for searching out and suggesting solutions. Some of these methods are specifically designed to encourage creativity and new ideas – such as competitions and prizes, online platforms and idea banks. Others are adapted from neighbouring fields, such as the arts and product design. There are processes that encourage people and organisations to see and think differently and institutions that play a key role in animating innovation by bringing in outside perspectives.

Ideas come from many sources - citizens, service users, communities, front line staff, other sectors or other countries. In this section, we look at ways of tapping into these sources and ways of engaging citizens, users and others in the design and development of solutions.

Open innovation

Open innovation describes the process of harnessing the distributed and collective intelligence of crowds. It is based on a number of principles including: collaboration, sharing, self-organisation, decentralisation, transparency of process and plurality of participants. The term was first used by Henry Chesbrough to describe a new model of product development based on the free flow of information and ideas across departments and organisations.


There are a range of organisations and multi-disciplinary teams involved in the generation of workable ideas. Elsewhere, we look at institutions involved in all stages of innovation and across all sectors, but here we look at the innovation animators, those who can bring in different perspectives and come up with innovative solutions.


Imagining Solutions

There are a series of methods, especially within the field of design, which bring people together to develop solutions. Often this is called co-design. Increasingly, some of these approaches are being used within the public sector to re-design services.

Thinking differently

New solutions come from many sources: adapting an idea from one field to another; connecting apparently diverse elements in a novel way. It’s very rare for ideas to arrive alone: more often, they grow out of other ideas, or out of creative reflection on experience. They are often prompted by thinking about things in new or different ways. Here, we outline some of the processes that can help to think and see differently.


Many governments, at every tier, are now trying to find ways of engaging the public in shaping what they do, not just through elections every few years. These methods are still being experimented with, and are as much about creating a culture of openness to ideas as they are about generating ideas themselves.

Facilitating participation

There are also a range of techniques – widely used in the developing world – for engaging participants in more effective and meaningful ways. Many meetings remain unproductive and uncreative, but they play a crucial role in innovation: they may not always be the place where new ideas first come into people’s heads, but they are certainly decisive in shaping ideas and building support. Much attention is now being given to meetings to make them more effective – sometimes with much more open processes, sometimes with much more formal structures.