Firm Follows Form

Organisation Design Blog by Nathan Waterhouse

February 25, 2014

Collaborating to eradicate global poverty

In 2011, Sarah Fathallah, a consultant in Washington DC shared an idea to improve the health of low-income communities with no healthcare infrastructure on She could not have known at the time, but months later, this idea would be picked up by a team of doctors and development experts in Caldas, Colombia and brought to life to improve the lives of the people there, who are made up of 26% living in extreme poverty. Working with Grameen Caldas this entrepreneurial team refined the idea, with support from the global OpenIDEO community, got funded, and launched Bive, a social business providing affordable, quality and expedient healthcare services to low-income communities. Now, three years later, Bive serves 1,300 users with 42 different health related services.

Sarah is part of the global community on OpenIDEO who regularly take part in open innovation challenges to help tackle social and environmental issues. The community is now made-up of over 50,000 individuals from 185 countries, who come from a diverse range of backgrounds and skillsets – designers, social entrepreneurs, educators and consultants amongst other passionate collaborators.

In the time the site has been live, this community, which is open for anyone to join, has helped impact a range of different global issues. The OpenIDEO community’s ideas and actions have helped a team of students at Stanford increase the US national bone marrow registry by 115,000 new potential donors to help those suffering from Leukaemia.– one patient’s life was saved because of this work. The community has also helped design an app called The Panic Button for Amnesty International, which helps those at risk of being illegally detained. In other challenges, each addressing a specific issue and sponsored by a partner organisation, the community has addressed mass atrocity, lack of sanitation and disposal of electronic waste, to name a few and has seen similar success.

I work for IDEO, and when we started OpenIDEO we wanted to create a place where people with a wide range of backgrounds and skills could collaborate on challenges for social good. Recently we wanted to help the community create greater impact, so we teamed up with IDEO’s non-profit, and with the support of DFID, have started the Amplify Program.  Over the next five years, we will run ten challenges focused on a different international development issue, and open them up to everyone to take part. We aim to innovate the way international development is done by developing a participatory model. For the first time in OpenIDEO’s history we’ll offer grant funding and design support to  ideas that successfully make it through the process, plus we’ll be working with local beneficiaries to bring their voice to the platform, understand their needs, what’s already been tried, and to attract existing NGOs and entrepreneurs to join the process.

How do open innovation challenges work on OpenIDEO?

We start with a big question, something to get everyone focusing their energies on, and we launch the first of several phases, each one running for a few weeks at a time. The first of these is the Research phase, which is all about learning before jumping to ideas. In this phase we share existing solutions, interview end-beneficiaries, share personal stories, and look at adjacent fields for analogous research. Next comes the really creative part: the Ideas phase, where anyone can submit solutions to the problem, comment, and build upon each other’s contributions – and even form teams. Next, the most promising ideas move forwards to the Refinement phase, prototyping and end-beneficiary feedback is sought, and finally the most successful ideas are shortlisted and from that list, grants will be given, along with design support to secure real world impact.

The first Amplify challenge: Women’s & Girls’ safety

This month sees the launch of the first of these challenges and the question this time is How might we make low-income urban areas safer and more empowering for women and girls?. Although anyone can join the challenge, we’re specifically looking for anyone working in the international development space to participate, and here are a few reasons to contribute to the process:

  • We’re looking for existing ideas not just new ones – your projects could benefit from funding and design support
  • Raise awareness of your own work
  • Find new collaborators and partners from unusual sources
  • Find new ideas and inspiration for your work
  • Get feedback on your work and ideas

We’re currently in the Research phase. At this stage we are looking for existing approaches, personal stories and your in-depth understanding of the social sector to increase our collective understanding of the problem. Whether you’re working in a space relevant to women’s and girls’ safety or just want to check out this new approach to increasing collaboration in international development, you can join the challenge at

Also check out the video below to learn more about this challenge:

Introducing OpenIDEO’s Women’s Safety Challenge from IDEO on Vimeo.

December 10, 2013

Ideas are Cheap

Working in the world of innovation and creativity you hear a lot of talk about ‘ideas’. In the vernacular of innovation, the emphasis placed on ideas is overdone. It’s Saccharin sweet. You can see this in the cynicism some people have towards brainstorming: there’s a perception that it’s all happy clappy fluffy hot air and no action. Personally I think they’re right to be cynical. The real challenge is that most people are jumping to the middle of the creative process (probably because there’s a thing called brainstorming they’ve heard of and that’s what they associate with being creative in a team). All too often the start and the ‘end’ of the process are skipped over – the two most important place to invest time. - Read More -

September 3, 2013

Knight Foundation’s next challenge: Health & Data

Knight Foundation’s latest newschallenge launches its Entries phase today, seeking new ideas to improve the Health of communities by asking this question: “How can we harness data and information for the health of communities?” The platform is our first public instance of IDEO’s new open innovation platform OI Engine. Read on to learn more about the latest challenge and some of the stuff we’re learning about running open challenges with financial rewards.

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July 31, 2013

Community Design Principles of Span Homes

Exactly a year ago I moved from sunny California to London and (with my wife and two kids) we now live in a lovely community – I jokingly refer to it as a commune to colleagues at work. We knew no one when we arrived and now we and our kids have new friends. I never thought I’d have such good neighbours in a big city like London. How is this possible? - Read More -

July 28, 2013

Designing new innate human skills

We recently had a new addition to the household: a Siberian Cat called Willow. We got him as a kitten and something struck me as interesting the other day: he has never had any real interaction with other cats and yet he knows exactly how to be a cat. He knows how to catch food, how to clean himself, how to walk precariously across a fence, and how to beg for love. We on the other hand, are born with inbuilt instincts and capacities but few innate skills or solutions that can be used almost immediately without supported development. If you left a baby to its own devices it would struggle to cope alone.

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July 3, 2013

How to nurture & design your community

With so much of the interaction online being centered around its social nature, I’ve been wondering ‘can you design a community?’ When we first designed we began with some design principles to help steer our decisions. They included things like: optimism, being inclusive, etc. A big surprise to us was that, as time went by, those principles translated into community behaviour, which was immensely gratifying for us to see. Those principles informed how we designed the user experience, but also ended up being the beginnings of how we would recruit new team members, and informed our ongoing strategy as a team.

Building off those guiding principles and learning from some of the impact that the community has created – often spawning new physical communities like MiLES has done (transforming disused storefronts in New York and their neighbourhoods) here’s some initial thoughts on some principles for nurturing existing and designing new communities. My question for you: what’s missing? Do these translate to physical community creation as well as the online world?

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June 4, 2013

The future of human centered design

Throughout my career, and especially as a designer at IDEO, I’ve been a passionate believer of the value of placing people first, of designing from an end–user perspective. I’ve seen first hand the potential for how Human Centered Design (HCD) can transform careers, organisations,  industries and people’s lives. However, lately an idea has started to gnaw at me. - Read More -

May 28, 2013

6 Ways to Amplify your Community’s Potential

Whether you are a CEO, a manager leading a team to create change in an organisation, or a community leader, try thinking about these six approaches to make the most of your community’s potential to do good.

Just as machines have amplified our individual ability to create, the internet is enabling us to amplify our collective potential to create impact. I hear of many community leaders from CEOs to scout leaders wanting to make the most of social media and the internet to meet their goals. Here’s six ways that successful community leaders maximise their impact. - Read More -

May 25, 2013

The Convening Power of Open Innovation

At IDEO, we’ve begin to take the software we built to create OpenIDEO and begin customising it for other firms to leverage their communities, employees, and extended networks to solve problems. We’re learning really interesting things about how the platform, called the OI Engine, can help companies reach their goals. Here’s an example from the Knight Foundation, a wonderful organisation dedicated to creating lasting change in communities, journalism, and the media. - Read More -

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