Funders have the power to drive innovation for impact.

Innovation isn’t just a matter of luck, eureka moments or alchemy. Innovation can be managed, supported and nurtured. Foundations and donors, who have acted as investors in social change, can be stewards of innovation as well.  Funders can look to 3 different models to drive innovation, each with a selection of methods to source and nurture promising means of tackling complex problems.



Open innovation methods involve publicizing your interest in the problem and extending an open invitation to solve it. Some open innovation methods incentivize participation through awards; others tap existing excitement around solving a particular problem.  Learn more>>

Organizations work closely with users to elicit ideas, inputs and refinements on new innovation opportunities and solutions. In some cases, the organization elicits and nurtures the user’s innovation directly, and supports the user to increase its value.  Learn more>>

Using the Methods


Innovation methods included in this material are not an exhaustive list. While we present characteristics and details of individual methods, in reality they are typically used in combinations, adopted and modified to suit your unique problem and situations.


Creative Adaptation of Methods

Using the basic principles of various methods, you can devise a unique method of your own that suits your context better. Rebuild By Design provides a good example. Conventional challenge competitions relied on the model where participants took all the risk in investing their time and efforts to generate ideas to submit, while competition organizers had little control over the outcome. The new approach called ‘Staged Competition’ combines the element of Ethnography and Challenge Competition, allowing participants to collaborate first on the research phase together before dividing into teams to generate competing ideas. This not only mitigates the risk participants are taking, but also makes the outcome more user-centred and credible.


Method Mix Through Portfolio Process

In the actual portfolio process, innovation methods are often used in a conjunction, or in sequence. This was the case for XYZ initiative. First the program held the Challenge Competition once the program had the concrete understanding on the focus area. It targeted the community of ABC with the topic of DEF. The competition generated N ideas that represented a range of perspectives the residents had. These ideas were taken back to the community, particularly with the users who submitted them in Co-Creation approach. Once more concrete solutions were developed, the program took them to the broader potential beneficiaries in different communities, together with experts practicing Human-Centred Design. They refined the solutions further and built higher-fidelity prototypes that were ready for implementation.