Three steps to developing workable ideas: explore, extract and enact


Where do new ideas come from? How do you produce an actionable, new idea? Nicholas Colloff outlines the ‘explore, extract, enact’ approach to innovation.

Working recently with Oxfam’s teams in Armenia and Georgia, as they reviewed their strategy, we used a simple exercise to prototype new ideas sitting within their strategy that they could try out over the next six to twelve months.

This was a three step process of exploration, extraction and enacting.

  1. Explore. The key here is to be able to focus on the challenge you are facing and why it is important both to you and to the organization. Participants were asked to explain it in under a minute and give it a one word title. This combination of focus, clarity and felt importance are critical ingredients to ensure the group is looking at the right challenge in the right way.

    With this in focus, the group brainstormed ideas around addressing the challenge. They used a few simple rules: be open minded, believe everything is possible, uncover needs and opportunities and use your imagination. Groups were asked to speak in terms of ‘yes and…’. No ‘buts’ were allowed. They were asked not to judge any contribution at this stage and, most importantly, go crazy!

    It is extraordinary how difficult it is to simply let ourselves have an idea without an interfering inner censor telling us it is impossible or will sound foolish or without immediately trying to follow the idea’s consequences into a jungle of development anxieties or ‘what ifs’! The importance is to get each idea down, one per post-it note, and as many as possible.

Investible proposition template. Copyright: 100% Open

2. With this blizzard of post-its carrying ideas, the next step is extraction. Each group was asked to develop criteria by which to judge their ideas – cost effectiveness, impact, sustainability etc – and hone in on one that looked like the best solution.

Taking that idea, they used an ‘investible proposition’ template to build from the idea to action. The template has four expanding circles.

The first is for the idea:  What’s the idea in a nutshell.  Why is it different? The second is for its new features: To describe the new, technology, service or behaviour that you are introducing. The third is for the business model: Who will benefit and how? How is will it be sustainably financed? What might go wrong? The fourth is for the plan: How will we launch this? Which partners will do what, when? What resources are needed now?

3. With each circle populated, each group had an actionable idea to enact that could be shared with the wider group, critically assessed and owned into action, as ways of trialling aspects of their new strategy.

My favourite was a contest for women food heroes in rural Armenia that strengthened society’s perception of the importance of women in farming and food and that used social media to spread the message, and garnered new sponsorship from the private sector and cultural icons.

Investible proposition template used courtesy of 100% Open

Author: Nicholas Colloff
Archive blog. Originally posted on Oxfam Policy & Practice.