Learning to expect the unexpected: First Prize Award Lessons

By: Ideas to Impact Team On: Mar 30, 2016

Our first prize has been awarded under the Ideas to Impact programme. The “Cylinder Prize” offered cash incentives to find high value alternative uses to smelting substandard LPG cylinders, after the cylinders are withdrawn from circulation. Attracting a huge amount of interest, the Cylinder Prize was finally awarded to the innovative idea of turning substandard cylinders into improved cookstoves – for more info on the winners click here:

Reaching and stimulating new solutions

The variety of solutions we received was impressive: at least 40 different ideas. Some of them were totally new, at least to our knowledge. Others were ideas that had already been implemented or tested elsewhere but never on a large scale. The incentive prize was effective both in showing what already exists and in promoting creativity and new ideas. This adds value in comparison with a process which is kept internal and can easily miss good existing ideas.

Casting our net wide

The challenge we posed was seen and answered by a huge number of people from all kinds of technical and geographical backgrounds which provides us with sufficient confidence that we haven’t missed any potential solution. This is certainly an added value of prizes -if a readymade solution existed, which could be implemented at scale, we’d probably have found it through the wide-reaching prize process.

Surprising outcomes

Prize outcomes can also be surprising. As Mathieu Dalle, project manager, underlines, “we aimed at having an impact on energy access by removing old cylinders from circulation which should make the LPG sector safer and promote LPG uptake. But the winning solution could also lead to an extra impact on energy access thanks to a new product: the improved cookstove. However, the solution also competes with the initial goal because LPG and charcoal (used as a fuel for improved cookstoves) are competing fuels.”

Reach the right solvers

Another consideration worth noting is that the outcome highly depends on our capacity to find out and/or attract the right solvers, which is not something surprising but still easy to miss. In our case, our expected outcome was a valuable solution that would deal with the removal of old cylinders. We set up the challenge on the Innocentive platform whose solver pool is really impressive in terms of number and quality. Nevertheless, we realized during the judging process that the proposed solutions were stronger on the technical side than on the economic side, probably due to the fact that a majority of Innocentive solvers are engineers, technical, mostly attracted by the technical part of the challenge.

Expect the unexpected

One of the characteristics of a prize driven processes is that you don’t know in advance what the solution will be. It means that it is really difficult to foresee what the post award strategy will be. In our case for instance, the winning solution, the outcome of the prize, is to manufacture and sell improved cookstoves. Putting in place that solution requires prototyping, testing, market surveys, the definition of a business model, etc. Lots of steps that will need resources which cannot be estimated beforehand. So make sure you have resources and time for a post-award strategy that is difficult to predict.

This first experience has been highly instructive to bring to light some difficulties and advantages of prizes. It is also important to note that many surprises may arise during the prize process which required quick adaptation, flexibility and being open to what is not expected.

Further reflections and lessons will be shared around all five of the Ideas to Impact Prizes, so please keep posted and revisit our blog site soon. For any queries on Ideas to Impact please contact Gabrielle Minkley at gabrielle.minkley@imcworldwide.com