Impact Innovation – Towards a Definition and Practice pt1/3

The world is facing major challenges and we are all looking for ways to collaborate more effectively to address these challenges. MakerBay develops and promotes Impact Innovation. But what is Impact Innovation exactly? Let’s start with a simple definition attempt:

Impact Innovation is a method for a diverse group to creatively collaborate and produce innovative work that has a measurable impact in the real world.

To unpack this, it is helpful to explain where our approach comes from: a hybrid of Design Thinking and Theory of Change, at the intersection of the world of design, innovation, social entrepreneurship, and non-profit organization management.

Design Thinking has become very popular in recent years, even mandatory in certain curriculums. It finds its own roots in “Human-Centred Design” and it’s been promoted by Stanford d School and groups such as IDEO. “Orthodox Design Thinking” has been distilled down to 5 steps: 1. Empathy, 2. Define, 3. Ideate, 4. Prototype, 5. Test. This “procedure” is often something that needs to be repeated several times, to approach the desired outcome, develop the product with the right market fit. At MakerBay, we always add another step: 6. Document and share, that brings us closer to the scientific method and the Feynman technique. What are the pros and cons of Design Thinking?

  • + : Inclusive, creative, fun, engaging, fast
  • – : Superficial, does not produce impact, low accountability

Of course, this is a caricature, and it is only fair because most Design Thinking workshops take place with beginners in meeting rooms, isolated from the real-world challenges.

“Theory of Change is a specific type of methodology for planning, participation, and evaluation that is used in companies, philanthropy, not-for-profit and government sectors to promote social change. Theory of Change defines long-term goals and then maps backward to identify necessary preconditions”. [Source: Wikipedia]  It also, has a distilled series of steps: 1. Input, 2. Activity, 3. Output, 4. Outcome, 5. Impact. What are the pros and cons of Theory of Change?

  • + : Deep, focused on impact, high stakeholder accountability
  • – : Can be exclusive (requires specialist knowledge), tedious, slow.

Of course, this is a caricature, and it is only fair because most Theory of change get elaborated by senior management of non-profit organisation, strategising and allocating resources to address complex real-world issues.

I hope you can see clearly why these frameworks can be highly complementary if combined. What we are doing is essentially inserting Design Thinking “inside” Theory of Change (the “Activity” is now “Design Thinking”).

The objective here is to have a process that is

  • + : Inclusive, creative, fun, engaging, fast
  • + : Deep, focused on impact, with high stakeholder accountability

And that raises several new conditions for optimal productivity:

  • People: impact invention process requires a diverse group of people, some of which should have specialist knowledge, and some others that bring in fresh perspectives and ideas.
  • Place: Impact Innovation may be done “on site”, “hands-on” to test ideas in a semi-controlled environment.
  • Time: the Impact Innovation process will take more time than a typical Design Thinking Workshop, and less time than elaborating and testing a Theory of Change with the added benefit of testing ideas at small scale before implementation.
  • Impact: Impact Innovation requires meticulous documentation at every step of the way, so that each experiment can be compared to others, each stakeholder kept accountable, so that the best strategy and actors can be selected to scale forward.

<in progress> Let’s examine several examples inspired by MakerBay’s practice: Dog, Bag, Car, Coral </in progress> 

What is clear is that humanity is now facing a large number of complex challenges such as climate change. Not a single solution will not fit the diversity and complexity of our challenges, but we can ambition is to elaborate a method with an improving feedback loops, tools, and a supportive community to create locally appropriate solutions that can in turn contribute to a global impact, hence MakerBay motto: Local Innovation, Global Impact.

How can we disseminate Impact Invention?

  1. Commenting on this blog post, criticizing, commenting, suggesting, sharing references.
  2. Sharing this video [in progress]
  3. Participating in MarkerBay’s Impact Invention Workshops
  4. Contacting MakerBay to develop tailor-made workshops for your company, community, school, university, town. [email protected]
  5. Print and fill this one page DIY “Impact Innovation Worksheet” with a group of collaborators [in progress]
  6. Share this method in research papers attributing “Cesar Jung-Harada, MakerBay, Dec 2020” and sharing on social media.

You will notice that MakerBay’s projects are all organised according the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Not that I feel that the commitment of reducing emissions but the member states is sufficient, but precisely because we believe that individuals, communities, schools, companies, local governments can make a big difference collectively. We want all the change-makers to join our online and off community, to inspire and support each other.

MakerBay will continue to improve and share the Impact Invention model through critique (please comment below), learning by doing, collaborating.

To go deeper in Impact Innovation, please continue to read pt 2 and pt 3.

< pt 1 | pt 2 | pt 3 >

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    1. Ha! Thanks a lot for your comment dear Gray!
      Yes, the book shall come – That’s the PhD project! Hopefully in 3 years from now 🙂 I might pick your brain a couple of times – if you are willing 🙂

Ms. Angie Zhou

Education Specialist

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Angie Zhou is an Education Specialist at MIT App Inventor. She was the founder and CEO of Dreams Come True in Shenzhen, where she developed online coding courses for kids. She also has previous curriculum development, teaching and staff training experience at First Code Academy in Hong Kong.