ITK Beyond Innovation

ITK Beyond Innovation

The funny thing about the Innovation Toolkit is… it’s not really about innovation.

Or more specifically, it’s not just about innovation. Most of our focus is actually on helping teams work together to solve hard problems. The fact that this approach to collaborative problem-solving tends to produce results that are novel and impactful (i.e. innovative) is sot of an added bonus. But the whole “working well together” thing is the main point.

Then again, the ITK movement is all about new ways of working together, bringing new groups together in new and interesting ways. We help teams function more effectively by being more collaborative, by asking better questions, and embracing more diversity. We introduce new tools and new techniques that help to unlock new levels of creativity.

So… maybe that’s what’s so innovative about ITK. Maybe the real innovation is the friends we made along the way.


Which ITK Stakeholder tool should I use and when?

Which ITK Stakeholder tool should I use and when?

Tips on selecting from the 5 different ITK stakeholder tools

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Planning for stakeholders falls into three general steps:

  1. Identifying who is a relevant stakeholder;
  2. Assessing which stakeholders to engage with; and
  3. Assessing the optimal engagement approach.

The Innovation Toolkit now has 5 stakeholder-related tools, which serve different purposes and are complementary with each other. These tools are best used early in the effort, but they can be revisited whenever the effort needs to interact or collaborate with the people involved, interested, or impacted by the effort.

Here are some quick tips for when to use each stakeholder tool.

ITK Tool What is it Scope of Tool When to use it Why use it

Stakeholder Identification Canvas


Ideate a more comprehensive & representative set of relevant stakeholders to your effort (Ideally) All stakeholders Step #1 – Identifying who is a relevant stakeholder The embedded equity lens helps broaden the team’s perspective to consider stakeholders beyond the default set

Community Map


A fast way to capture and prioritize stakeholders (Ideally) All stakeholders Step #1 – Identifying who is a relevant stakeholder Can be conducted very quickly because of the simple and intuitive categories (which can be tailored to the team’s effort)
Stakeholder Power Categories Quickly categorize and assess which stakeholders to engage Multiple stakeholders Step #2 – Assessing which stakeholders to engage with The embedded equity lens highlights impacted stakeholders and how to elevate their roles on the effort

Stakeholder Map & Matrix


Look across multiple stakeholders and categorize them according to key variables (e.g., interest, influence, impact) Multiple stakeholders Step #2 – Assessing which stakeholders to engage with Can assess and compare multiple stakeholders at the same time

Quickstart Stakeholder Engagement Canvas


A quick way to begin developing a plan for effectively engaging a stakeholder Individual stakeholder Step #3 – Assessing the optimal engagement approach The embedded equity lens helps the team explore four additional considerations beyond the default to help create more equity-informed engagements

While there are many stakeholder-related methods and tools on the market, our goal with these ITK stakeholder tools is to help teams quickly get started or unstuck when thinking through how to include relevant stakeholders for their effort. We encourage teams to use the ITK tools in combination with other market tools to successfully identify, assess, and plan engagements with stakeholders.

Let us know how it goes in the comments below!


The Challenging Practice of Silence

Today’s post is by soon-to-be certified ITK Facilitator Casey Creech

I learned an important lesson about facilitation in 9th grade English class.

I wanted help spelling a word. I don’t remember the word. I do remember my teacher handing me the dictionary. She said, “Where can you find it in here?”

As I took the dictionary back to my desk, I remember feeling stunned. The more I sat with it on my desk, the more I became frustrated. I wanted a quick answer.

  • She knew I was in a rush.
  • I didn’t’ have time to look up the answer.
  • I need it now before class ended.
  • She was the expert.
  • Why didn’t she tell me the answer?

It took me over 30 years to realize the value in her lesson. It was the move of a grand master. A guru of teachers. If she had told me the answer, she would have stolen the knowledge from me. The knowledge of finding the answer myself.

I realize a truth now. When we rush to help others, we often become a thief. A thief stealing lessons of learning.

When we ask questions, we create silence. The more open ended our questions, the greater the silence. The greater the tension. Tension is where learning occurs. Tension is where breakthroughs happen.

Practicing silence is challenging. You must resist primal urges. When you ask a question and there is not response, often it feels like this:

  • After 3 seconds, you become tempted to clarify. To remove the silence.
  • At 5 seconds, your internal voice may start asking, “Did anyone hear me?”
  • At 10 seconds, it can feel like you are failing. Every second after this seems like an eternity.

Yet in these moments of silence, the group is experiencing similar tension. They are learning how to best answer the question themselves. You are giving time to discovering an answer. It is a gift mixed with a little alchemy.

I often count after I ask a question. One Mississippi, two Mississippi, three… I’ve never gotten to 20 seconds. Someone has always spoken. This moment relieves the tension. Someone else filling the void opens the group to discussion.

The trick is not to let it be you. Let silence create the tension needed for the group to move forward.

How can you give the gift of silence to the next group you work with?



Intro To Personal Anthropology

Intro To Personal Anthropology

I’d like to introduce you to a handy little technique I use called “noticing how I work, writing that down, and sharing it.” I think of it as a type of personal anthropology, with my work persona as the primary subject of study.

I highly recommend adopting this practice in your own work, for several reasons. First, I find it makes my work better, because I’m constantly collecting data about what’s actually working for me. I’m observing and documenting my own patterns, then experimenting with ways to improve them. Second, it makes me a better partner because it gives me a steady stream of ideas to contribute to the team. And I should also mention it’s kinda fun.

Let’s break it down into the three main steps.

Noticing is simultaneously easy and hard. It’s easy because you are always with yourself, always physically present at your own activities. There is no need to make special arrangements, manage conflicting schedules, or fear coming across like some creepy stalker (why is that guy following me?). It’s also hard because there are loads of distractions. You’re busy doing the thing, so remembering to make a note of how you do it requires deliberate intention and effort. Good news – you can do your noticing after the fact, remembering and reflecting instead of observing and recording in real-time. The question to ask yourself is basically “What did I do, and how’s that working out for me?”

It’s super tempting to skip this step, but please don’t. Putting words on paper (and I literally mean paper, please and thank you) helps us process and understand our experiences. This also records them for future evaluation, but even if you never re-read your old notebooks, the benefit of having written it in the first place is hard to overstate. Your first draft doesn’t have to be super detailed – in my case, I literally wrote the words “notice / write / share” in a notebook… then used that as the seed of this blog post. And remember, good writing is just bad writing that’s been rewritten, so give yourself permission to write a bad first draft (I LOVE bad first drafts). It is much easier to revise a bad first draft than to edit a blank sheet of paper. And if you honestly want to improve your writing, the best advice I can give is to read a lot.

Sharing your observations and practices may feel presumptuous, but it is actually a generous contribution to the community. Letting people in on your learning and passing along your reflections helps to build a culture of collaboration, trust, and learning. Don’t worry if your story feels obvious or basic, or like something everyone already knows. I find that adults need to be reminded more often than they need to be informed, and you may have a new take on an old idea. At the very least, by sharing your practices you’re making it easier for other people to do so as well.

(and not to get too meta about it, but did you notice this post is about noticing how I notice things…)


What Next?

What Next?

Tools like the Mission/Vision Canvas, the Problem Framing Canvas, and the Premortem tool all help teams develop a brief statement of some sort. It’s a pretty good feeling when the group comes up with a formulation or a phrase that they all agree on, and the statement itself can be a really helpful foundation and guide as the project or effort moves forward.

However, the work isn’t necessarily complete once the session ends and consensus has been reached. The group may have a pretty good version of a Vision Statement or a Problem Statement, but what they do next will determine how effective that statement is. I recommend a three-step process that looks something like this.

  1. Sleep on it. Set the statement aside and come back in a day or two with fresh eyes. You may discover it’s not as clear and clever as it seemed at the time. You may uncover a gap or a friction point, an opportunity to improve it… or you may confirm that it’s exactly what you hoped it would be.
  2. Socialize it. Share it with some colleagues who were not in the session and get their perspectives. Ask if it resonates with them – is it clear, accurate, actionable, etc? Testing it out and validating / refining the statement doesn’t have to take long or be super formal. In fact, it’s probably best if it’s quick and informal.
  3. Wordsmith it. Continue to play around with word choice and word order. Might the statement make more sense if you shuffled some parts around, swapped in a synonym, or made other changes? Sleeping on it and socializing it may unlock some new ideas you didn’t come up with in the original session.

As much as an ITK session aims to develop “clarity and consensus” on topics, keep in mind most of this work is actually iterative. We hardly ever follow the one-and-done path, and we like to remind people that there is a zero percent chance we got it one hundred percent correct on the first try. As a general rule, we get the most of out ITK sessions when we think about them as the beginning of a conversation rather than the end of one.

Why ITK Works For Me…And Hopefully For You

Why ITK Works For Me…And Hopefully For You

Today’s blog post is from Jeffrey Hammer, one of ITK’s new trainees

If you’ve seen the ITK tools, some of them may look familiar. Lotus Blossom? That’s brainstorming. Stormdraining? Organizing a brainstorm. Mission and Vision Canvas? Companies have been defining their vision and mission for years, with one of the earliest known mission statements going back to 1941 in the American Journal of Economics and Sociology. So why ITK?

The answer for me lay in two areas. First, the tools facilitate these common processes in a different way. I thought I was an experienced brainstorming facilitator, even integrating mind maps in my sessions as far back as 2000. Lotus Blossom upended that thinking and gave me an entirely different way to approach a brainstorming session. The design of the tool itself, combined with the facilitation guide, invigorates fresh thinking. Mission-Vision uses plain language questions and leads a team down a path that eventually culminates in a mission or vision statement without you even realizing it.

Second is the ITK philosophy. There is an energy and culture behind these tools that its creators have infused into their design and use. It’s a positive, experimental, nurturing culture that encourages the novel thinking needed for innovation. That philosophy radiates from the founders and ITK evangelists, and is infused not only in the tools themselves but also how they can be applied to maximum effectiveness. And they are fun! Every tool I have used with a team has been met with enthusiasm and satisfaction.

As newbie and (hopefully) soon to be minted ITK Certified, I continue to learn and grow with each new experience. If you can embrace the novel approach these tools offer to scoping, designing, understanding, generating, and evaluating problems and ideas, it will take you and your team’s thinking to a whole new level.