User-Focused Innovation

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. In some cases, the organization elicits and nurtures a user-generated innovation, and supports the user to refine and expand it’s reach. User-focused methods vary based on whether the user is providing input or doing the designing herself, with implications for the implementing organization’s role. In general, the greater initiative taken by the user, the more an organization’s role becomes that of a supporter and enabler. This model is effective in ensuring the innovation reflects the conditions, needs and desires of the intended users and can empower individuals to contribute to and shape their own development.

User as Innovator

User-focused methods begin by understanding users’ environments, motivations and ability to adopt new innovation. Furthermore, some methods involve users actively in the process of creating solutions, rather than seeing them as passive recipients of innovations created by experts.

Funder as: Learner & Coach

You bring in the empathy to see the innovation through users’ eyes and guide ideas to be developed in a more sustainable way overall by bringing in partners and other resources.


Methods at a Glance

When it's best to use
When it goes well
When it goes wrong


focuses on understanding the socio-cultural environments that ground users’ motivation and behaviors.

  • Your problem is clearly defined but there are no known solutions yet.
  • You want to raise the awareness of the issue to the broader audience.

  • Incentivizes participation by people whose time and effort has a high opportunity cost.
  • Yields a great number of ideas that are mature enough to be developed

  • Fails to engage the right participants or receive enough number of entries
  • Quality of entries falls short of expectation.


methods focus on understanding users’ needs, wants and abilities before considering potential solutions. HCD incorporate rapid prototyping and user testing throughout inspiration, development, and deployment processes.

  • You don’t have a lot of resources to devote to uncovering innovations.
  • You have an engaged and active community around your challenge.
  • Your challenge is linked to a widespread, well-known issue.

  • You tap into knowledge of people that you cannot normally reach.
  • Produces unexpected solutions or directions to explore further.
  • Creates a new network of collaborators.

  • Derives biased outcomes due to the limited participation.
  • Contributed ideas may not give any conclusive direction, but raise questions on credibility.


promotes and facilitates learnings within and across communities to derive new innovations and encourage the adaptation of existing ones.

  • Your problem requires specific technical skills to come up with plausible solutions.
  • You want to engage the broad network of people with relevant technical skills to become interested in the issue.

  • You get concrete, feasible solutions that are mature enough in a short time frame to get investment for further refinement.
  • You promote the topic in the community that can contribute to solution development later.

  • No remarkable outcome to take forward
  • Low enthusiasm among participants due to lack of motivation


engages users to be the leading part of the development process rather than simply taking their inputs.

  • You would benefit from simultaneous input from a large number of users to understand problems they are facing and opportunities to innovate which might not be obvious from the outside
  • You can set up a platform that users can reach independently

  • You get a different perspective on the issue with the vast amount of data that you could not get hands on otherwise, e.g., disaster situation
  • May highlight structures that are invisible to external organizations

  • Derives biased outcomes due to the limited participation
  • Produces controversial outcome but it’s difficult to verify data