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Idea Method

Your organization’s IDEA Journey will be unique, focused around your challenge, your team, and your dream.

Your NetHope IDEA Journey will have four phases. You will imagine a range of innovative solutions to your challenge, you will design your chosen solution, you will execute it, bringing it to life in your context, and you will assess the impact.

Discover the whats and hows of the four phases, and why the IDEA Journey model is so effective.


The Imagine workshop phase is focused on solving a challenge in a human-centered way. It enables nonprofits to focus on the people who participate in the solution, designing with and for them. You will be pulling together what is desirable and useful from a human point of view with what is technologically feasible and economically viable. This leads to solutions that are adopted faster with less effort. When approaching the solutions to a challenge, the first question should always be, what is the human need behind it?

The Imagine workshop is delivered as a multi-day workshop, virtually or in person. It proceeds through three phases.


Define the current state

Participants are oriented to empathize with the users, to understand their needs, problems and how their actions flow together. It is about documenting the world as-is, focusing on the journey of various personas (eg, program participant, staff, donor). Pain points are identified, relationships mapped and process quantified. This phase require preparation through pre-workshop interviews and the development of personas. This is part discovery and part focus, blending stories and hard data.

Imagine the future state

Particularly aiming to accelerate impact and reduce pain points from the as-is state. This incorporates references to the current state as well as ideation on what could be possible and beneficial. Numerous ideation and categorization tools are employed during this phase to conclude with a few viable options.

Refine the concept

Grounding it in reality and presenting the top three to five solutions to advance. These will be documented and memorialized in the IDEA Dream Book.

During the Imagine workshop, your consulting partners will draw from a portfolio of design-thinking tools to achieve desired results. This will involve collaborating and writing on a lot of post-its, virtual or physical. This workshop experience has been written about extensively in this blog series.


The act of design devises courses of action aimed at changing existing situations into preferred ones.
Herbert Simon, 1988

Choose your own solution

The Dream Book, created through the Imagine workshop, presents multiple potential solutions. The first step of Design is to decide which to advance forward. This is because most nonprofits do not have enough funds to advance multiple solutions into Minimum Viable Products (MVP). A design team sets the parameters for selection and engages key stakeholders in the organization. The selected design is then analysed and a digital representation is planned. This phase is done with an implementation partner who guides you through the process and can build the MVP. A typical approach is to use a build-measure-learn feedback loop to prioritize the most valuable features.

Make dreams tangible

Design goes hand in glove with the Imagine workshop. It makes dreams tangible. It is through the Minimum Viable Product (MVP) outcome of the Design phase that people can interact with the solution and start to make it better. An MVP is a product which usually has one basic set of features. It is released to a handful of people to test a new solution and to gauge people's reaction to it through feedback. Design is an opportunity to re-validate the dreams documented in the Dream Book. It gives more definition to solutions by bringing them to life. Design allows more people to collaborate by interacting with the same reference implementation.

Test the solution

The goal of the Design phase is to learn through a MPV. This can be done by a nonprofit alone, or by co-creating a platform with multiple other NGOs. The MVP is tested as a solution to the initial challenge, data and feedback are collected and analysed, and the MVP continuously improved. Creating the MVP involves iteratively creating a model solution (eg, user flow, wireframe) that fits current architectures (eg, data, enterprise, process). A design budget and plan (eg, for technology and people) typically guide the scope and timeline of this phase.

Plans for adoption, training and support during the Execute phase are usually developed during Design. They are informed by users’ feedback.


There are some people who live in a dream world, and some who face reality; and then there are those who turn one into the other. - Douglas Everett

Deliver impact

No solution has value unless it is practically adopted in regular workflows. Execution is where the designed solution encounters the reality of organizational culture and program operations. This is when usage and adoption take place and where impact can be measured over time.

Execution is continuous learning and adaptation in search of impact, the process of solving the initial challenge that started the IDEA Journey.

Deploying a solution stretches the best designs and plans to their limits. For example, infrastructure components, such as connectivity and power, can become limitations to cloud system operations, and so can inadequate cybersecurity jeopardize the best designs. Then, there is always the inevitable scenario that design did not plan for that comes up at the most inopportune moment, demanding urgent and undivided attention from the team.

However, it is human elements that are most often barriers to Execution progress. The two most frequently encountered human-centric challenges to execution are user inclusion and change management.


User inclusion

Every successful roll-out must engage users in the decision-making process. This gives them a sense of ownership that facilitates turning the inevitable deployment problems into creative solutions. Yet the practicalities of the Imagine and Design phases usually prevent all users from being engaged all the way through, requiring catch up during Execution. Some IDEA Journey nonprofits have found a successful solution to broadening engagement through mini one-day Imagine and Design sessions. Engaging users also enables great training and communication to be created in their “language” (vs that of ICT) and delivered by leaders they respect and trust. This leads to a better understanding of the solution, the meaning of instructions, and an easier adoption. Opposers to the solution must be specifically included and their opinions considered as some can be power users who have a better understanding of the pain points and thus able to co-create more effective remedies.

Change management

With new solutions, users are often asked to modify their workflows, and the more innovative and organization-deep the change, the more it must be managed. This means mixing people with diverse capabilities, competencies and styles into teams that are matched to project demands. In a dynamic digital world where change is constant, change can no longer be relegated to change specialists. Instead, change management competency needs to become a core capability of the entire nonprofit. Big change, such as the ones that involve entire business model shift, can also create situations where change becomes the change itself. In this situation, specialist change management teams may be needed.

Execution requires good planning such as defining sources of funds and budgeting. The right development methodology can also ensure integration with existing systems and be the difference between a system that is costly and complex to manage or one that fits in the existing digital ecosystem.

While program and geography play an important role in Execution, the team should ensure early on that the data needed to measure impact is collected and validated. Finally, communication, training, and support are critical complementary initiatives in technology implementation


People don't do what you expect but what you inspect. Louis V. Gerstner, Jr

Innovate for impact

The entire purpose of an IDEA Journey is to create innovation that leads to impact. Innovation can create significant and lasting social/environmental impact or enhance corporate/fundraising performance. To know, it must be evaluated.

The Assess phase enables nonprofits to account for the social performance of their IDEA Journey, the value of its contribution to society, and to generate greater credibility with the solution within programs and peer organizations. Therefore, assessing the impact of the initiative is extremely important – and it is often better when performed by an independent entity. Even if the innovation unlocked by the IDEA Journey makes no difference, there is value for the sector in knowing so. Understanding why a solution failed will lead to reduced waste of resources throughout the sector.

Measure impact

Impact assessment starts during the Design phase. This is when the team identifies the data that will be collected to measure impact. It then completes after the Execute phase when the solution has delivered benefits. In this way, impact measurement can be thought to have two phases:

Ante – throughout the Imagine and Design phases, envisioning the impact that will be achieved at the end of the Execute phase. This creates the right data set to collect during the Execute phase and the evaluation framework for the Assess phase.

Post –after the Execute phase, by analysis the information collected to evaluate what impact was achieved and how the effectiveness aligns with the initial IDEA Journey challenge. This evaluation also identifies how success may be replicated and scaled up.

Note that the evaluation during the Assess phase is distinct from performance measurement during the Execute phase, which is the ongoing process aimed at learning and improving the solutions that is typically conducted by the project team.

During the Design phase the team would have decided which modality of evaluation would be best suited for the IDEA Journey. For example, the organization will have decided to conduct the evaluation with internal resources or through independent third parties or by contracting evaluation experts. The team will have also decided if the assessment is an implementation study (ie, to prove the program was implemented as designed) or an impact study (ie, to establish whether the solution is generating the desired effects), or both.

While there are various degrees of rigor in these evaluations, the highest of which are randomized control trials to establish causality, they all depend on the good collection and management of data and planning for it during the Design phase.

It is recommended that all IDEA Journey include an impact report and that a version of this report be shared freely and openly to benefit the nonprofit sector.

Take your first step

What’s your challenge? And do you dare to expand your horizons as you dream up a solution?

If you do, a bespoke IDEA Journey is the springboard your organization needs to achieve your goals.
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