Spark Labs: Beyond brainstorming

Spark Labs: Beyond brainstorming
Mar 17, 2020
How sticky notes and risk-taking can lead to big solutions

It takes ingenuity, creativity, and diverse perspectives to solve tough challenges. But it’s a difficult concept to enable in a systematic fashion. That’s the impetus behind ICF’s Spark Labs.

Rooted in design thinking and human-centered design, Spark Labs empowers both internal and client teams with new ways to innovate and co-create. Here’s just one example of how it works.

An unorthodox application

ICF conservation planners Shawna Barry and Paola Bernazzani wanted an innovative way to generate member excitement for the National Habitat Conservation Planning (HCP) Coalition’s annual conference. The goal was to improve HCP processes for 2020 in a way that promotes collaboration of all participants—not an easy feat.

Ironically, Shawna led her team through a brief brainstorming session before they landed on the solution: a Spark Labs “Lightning Decision Jam”—in which small teams spend 60 minutes rapidly ideating—was the best way to begin. Unlike a brainstorm, in which one person gathers everyone’s ideas, “LDJ” sessions use a structured set of activities to focus participants on a specific task or project. Activities are designed to yield a diverse set of strong ideas, inspiring active engagement as participants collaborate and evolve ideas to help develop tangible outputs.

This method guides you through the process of thinking about the problem to create actionable solutions.

In this instance, the ICF and HCP teams broke out into groups using such Spark Labs tools as Mural Boards, "Note and Vote," and "How Might We" statements to extract and sort new and overlapping ideas. This approach makes it easier to reorient the discussion than in traditional brainstorming sessions, when things begin to get off-track.

Says Paola, “It’s hard to visualize the process when you haven't been through it before. But there’s no replacement for going through the ‘jam experience’ yourself!” Since Spark Labs is all about “outside the box thinking,” sticky notes in tow, Shawna and Paola headed to HCP headquarters with a bright outlook and their own adaptation of a one-hour Lightning Decision Jam.

A worthwhile risk

“The client loved it!” One participant told Paola that she credits the success—in part—to a core element of Spark Labs: the format encourages everyone to participate, giving people time to reflect on their thoughts before sharing with the larger group.

“We had generated more ideas in our one-hour workshop than in the last three years combined!”

Lightning Jam participant

In the end, the workshop provided practical ideas on how to improve the HCP development and implementation processes—ranging from what the client could do tomorrow to long-term projects that require further development.

Next up? Categorize all those ideas to prioritize HCP’s work for 2020.

Exciting opportunities ahead

Using new methods to create innovative solutions and memorable experiences is truly at the core of ICF’s mission, and Spark Labs is just one way we do it. Adds Paola, “If it’s a workable idea, you can get something really awesome out of it.” Want to learn more about how Spark Labs can help your team? Fill out the contact us form to get started.

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