Ideas are the root of all innovations. Because ideas lead to innovation we want more ideas, better ideas, the idea that will excite members.
Many innovative associations use a formal or informal idea process which generally has five steps and goes something like this:
Step 1: Allow members’ problems to spark innovative ideas
Our members are taking on new responsibilities, being asked to take on new projects or they are identifying something new that needs to be done. Externally there are new pressures on their industries and professions, new technology to learn about and new regulations, processes and best practices that they may have heard of but don’t know much about. Every time something new presents itself to our members, they have have a problem. When we solve that problem we have our next new innovative offering.
First we need to discover our member’s new, most challenging problems. Problems that if solved would be a value to them. Many associations try to do this in satisfaction/need surveys but respondents to the 2016 Association Innovation Research Study often said that qualitative methods worked better for them. Some associations commissioned custom research studies and some associations informally gathered information from member-facing staff, which means we have to find ways to allow ideas to travel!
Step 2: Help ideas flow and get heard
In some associations it might not be as easy for a coordinator to get their ideas heard as it is for a VP. Likely it is the coordinator that is talking to members each and every day. They know what the common questions are, they know what interactions with the association are frustrating, and they have ideas about how to solve these issues.
If you think that not all ideas are getting heard you can implement a simple process to ensure they do, such as an idea application process. Each and every idea that goes into the funnel has to be submitted in an application that allows the submitter to detail the specifics, like how this idea will help us reach an organizational goal. When every idea is captured in the application it can be heard and then prioritized.
Step 3: Prioritize the best ideas
One common misstep for innovative associations early on is to take on more than they can handle. Staff member are really excited about innovation and soon everyone is trying to implement more ideas than they can reasonably ship. Many projects get started but few get completed. With our finite resources we can only expect to do so much innovating.
The key is to prioritize the best ideas for launch. At this point we will want to assign a person or a team to vet each incoming idea. Will it solve a key problem that our members really care about? How likely is this idea to advance our mission? How likely will this idea help us reach one of our goals? How much will it cost? How much will it make? What is the likelihood of success? With the resources you have, maybe only one idea moves forward this year, maybe three. The quantity doesn’t matter, what matters is that the association gets started. Also know that after we prioritize, we will have more evolutionary-type projects than revolutionary-type projects and this is totally normal.
Step 4: Recognize staff for great work
One way to develop a new and innovative culture is to recognize staff for their ideas. Some innovative associations publicly recognize staff when they are trying to solve a member problem. Some associations privately recognize idea submitters. Some associations have developed a very transparent idea application process where every staff person can see where their idea is in the vetting process, and then, why, when and how it is moving forward or why it was declined.
For associations new to innovation, it is important the CEO is the key driver of innovation and part of this role is recognizing staff for their great ideas.
Step 5: Use your new product development process
Good news! Once you have one to a handful of key priority idea(s) you can run them through your existing new product development process.
Don’t get stuck if you feel like you’re lacking great ideas. Systematically work through the process and you will have the ideas you need.