Case study: Innovation games in action

Using innovation games is a very efficient way of collecting real feedback from a group of experts. We tried some of these games in a workshop in Konstanz, Germany, as part of a vision building phase of our newly started project CoSSMic. During the workshop of two days, barely no-one checked their emails because they were so busy contributing.

During my now almost twenty years long carrier as researcher I have been sitting in countless project meetings and workshops where experts have been arguing back and forth about different topics. Arguments are an essential part of the scientific method, but not an essential part of a project meeting. I myself have taken part in a good number of such discussions, while the rest of the meeting were busy checking their emails or doing other stuff. What a waste, if you think about it. You ask 20-30 highly skilled and intelligent people to travel hundreds of kilometers to sit in a meeting room all day and read and answer email or surf the web!

An example of a tomorrow headline being produced by one of the groups.

For two years ago I was introduced by professor Monica Divitini to a book called Gamestorming. It was a time when I was trying to set up a self-study course in innovation for our department. After having read this book I decided to add it to our course syllabus. We gradually started using the games in our meetings. In particular we used the business model canvas for working with our group strategy. But it was not before December last year that we decided to plan and run a two-day workshop using only innovation games. My colleague Leendert and I planned the agenda and traveled to Konstanz to the workshop, which was part of a new research project on renewable energy production in private houses. Our mission was to create a product vision for this new project, called CoSSMic, and try to come up with a set of product concepts for consumers. I thought I should write down our experience and some tips on what to do and not to do.

The goal of the project at this stage was early product vision building. CoSSMic started not so many weeks ago. The product vision for the project is something we needed to build. This is the reason we chose the specific innovation games. Our goal was to agree on the vision, the type of users we wanted to target, specific ideas about products (apps, systems etc.) to work on. Here is the list of the games we used, in the order in which they were played during the workshop (you can find them all in the two books referred above):

  • Seven Ps of a meeting: Purpose (why do we have this meeting?), Product (what will be the outcome of this meeting?), Participants (who needs to be there?), Process (what are agenda items and how will each session be organised?), Preparation (what do you expect from the participants to do prior the meeting?), Pitfalls (what can go wrong?), Practical stuff (logistics). I am not sure whether these are the exact words, but the 7 Ps is a nice brainstorming game for meeting organizers to prepare a document for the meeting. This document will at the end have everything the participants need to know. We started by the 7 Ps game.

    One of the groups presenting their results to the other groups after one of the innovation game sessions is finished.
  • Tomorrow headlines: This is a game where the participants are asked to imagine the headline of a given newspaper the day after the project is finalized with excellent results. What would the journalists write about the project? What impact did the project have? The headlines should be accompanied with imaginary interviews with satisfied users, with policy makers, interviews with all main stakeholders. The exercise produces a sheet of paper with the headline layed out as in a real newspaper. We divided the participants into groups and asked them to make one each. We had three different tomorrow headlines at the end.
  • Personas: personas is a well-known method from the human-computer interaction field. The idea is to create imaginary users with all the details such as age, sex, background, skills, family, friends, interests etc. We asked each group to make Facebook profiles for imaginary users. Facebook profiles are familiar to many and are a good tool for focusing persona creation. We had a number of profiles at the end.
  • Product box: In this game, each group was given the task of creating a box for the product they wanted the project to create. We used real cardboard boxes and asked the participants to decorate the boxes. At the end we had a set of three boxes, and each group presented their own box to the other groups in a sale pitch.
  • Business model canvas: On day two we asked the groups to work on one or more business model canvases (BMC) for the project. BMC is an excellent tool for people without business backgroud to describe concepts such as value propositions and customers.
The three product boxes produced during the workshop, together with the associated business model canvases.

We had planned to do some paper prototyping but the time was too short. After the meeting, the partners have continued with paper prototyping offline. The results from the workshop together with the paper prototyping done afterwards will be presented in a new project-wide meeting here in Trondheim in February.

Lessons learned

We tried to have people with different backgroups in each group. Roughly we had an ICT expert, an energy expert and a user representative in each group. This poses a challenge to the group discussions but the results are worth the challenge.

Rosita trying to “sell” her product to the other groups.

The workshop was very intensive. We had one hour for each of the games plus enough time to synchronize among the groups. Leendert and I played the moderator role and walked from group to group. The main moderator task we had was to clarify the rules of the games and explain what result was expected. In addition, in a couple of occations we had to help the groups to get out of an argumentation and try to focus on the expected results. After 50-60 minutes the groups were normally ready for presenting their results. We then used enough time for the presentations. The presentations raised a lot of useful discussions.


These are some of the specific lessons learned for you to take with you:

  • Preparations are important. We made a homework document that the participants could print and take with them. We focused on the most essential preparation, and homework that could be done while they were on their flight to Konstanz (we know people are busy and the only time available is when they are on their way to the meeting!).
  • We had some people arriving late, which led to the meeting start one hour later than planned. This was because each group had one delayed member and could not start. So make sure everyone is there when the meeting starts, or set up the groups to minimize the risk of delays.
  • Even if it might seem like a short time, one hour is enough time for most of the above games. After roughly 50 minutes the group are done and are eager to present their results.
  • Make sure groups don’t end up in endless discussions. Avoiding such discussions is the whole idea of the games.
  • Make enough time to synchronize after each game is over. It is useful for the groups to see how the other groups are doing. Of course in some cases you might want to deliberatly separate the groups so they can product completly random results. We did not need that in our case.
  • Take photos and keep the artifacts. When you are there in the meeting everything is fresh in your head and you think you won’t need the artifacts, or that photographs are enough. But don’t through away anything before you have carefully recorded everything for future use.

Good luck!

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