by Jesse Burns

The Challenge

Determining the best way to have the biggest impact on education.

A non-profit national center for research and technological innovation has the goal of accelerating the rate of innovation in education. But the number of problems affecting educational innovation is large. The organization needed to determine how to prioritize the problems so they could solve the ones that would have the largest impact. They also needed to define the best method for encouraging and rewarding innovative solutions.


We began by facilitating leaders through a discussion to understand the problems and prioritize those that could have the biggest impact. With this basis established, we convened a group of federal government officials and district and industry leaders to educate them on how innovation works, securing the group’s buy-in to the process. With a detailed plan for running idea competitions in place, we then led them through the process of addressing the first problem - teachers have a challenge finding technology to work with students, wasting a lot of time and money on products that don’t meet their needs.

Addressing this problem began with validating it through interviews to ensure it was meaningful. Next, we assessed the underlying market barriers that prevent the innovation from arising on its own and we designed an innovation prize that addressed those barriers. We also designed a social networking campaign to build awareness throughout the process (pre-prize, during the prize and after the prize). Through this process, a variety of web apps were created and the organization was poised to select which one(s) to invest in.


This engagement not only impacted our client, but also influenced the foundations that offer grants to this organization. 

The organization now has a ready-to-implement prize with detailed budget, timeline, roles and responsibilities, and marketing plans. They are also in the process of securing a grant from foundations willing to invest in the selected solution(s).

The process also helped foundations understand which problems are “big deals” so they can determine how to allocate grant money, make a bigger impact on the education system, and help manage their portfolio of projects. They also learned how innovation prizes can complement their grant-making activities.