Our first good practice webinar, held as part of the Fulfilling Lives: Supporting people with multiple needs national evaluation, saw two invited speakers talking about their experience of working with people to understand complex problems and find creative and effective solutions to these problems.

Our first presenter was Angela Barnes, Member Relations Officer at NAVCA (National Association for Voluntary and Community Action).

NAVCA have supported a programme of Action Learning Sets which have aimed to improve the understanding of, and develop innovative solutions to, critical issues including child poverty, children’s health, children and young people’s sexual exploitation and hate crime.

Action Learning Sets are groups of people who come together to work on challenging issues they face; the group provides space for questioning, reflection and generation of new ideas.

In running Action Learning Sets, NAVCA’s experience has highlighted the importance of:

  • Preparation – this may be a new way of working for many people, so participants need to be prepared
  • Building time for reflection, being adaptable and empathetic (you may be talking about sensitive issues
  • Producing an action plan and checking back on the actions
  • A good environment/location and a good mix of participants

Positive feedback has been received from those involved in action learning, and it has resulted in positive actions improving services.

Our next presenter was Dr Kamal Birdi, a senior lecturer in Sheffield University Management School’s Institute of Work Psychology. His research with organisations on creative thinking and innovation has led to the development of ‘CLEAR IDEAS’ – this is a systematic process for effectively generating and implementing new ideas at work. He has worked with public, private and voluntary sector organisations in using the approach to find new ways of effectively delivering services in complex and fast changing environments.

CLEAR IDEAS is an acronym, indicating key stages in generating and implementing ideas:

I – Illuminate – identifying an area where innovation is needed

D – Diagnose – understanding the nature of the problem/opportunity

E – Erupt – generate ideas (but don’t dismiss any)

A – Assess – systematically evaluate the ideas

S – Select – decide which ideas to take forward

For an idea to be successfully implemented, we need to:

C – Commit – ensuring commitment to taking the ideas forward

L  – Lead – ensuring leadership is in place

E – Engage – ensuring those affected are engaged

A – Align – alignment with wider strategies

R – Review – reviewing progress on implementing the idea

Kamal talked about some of the tools available to diagnose problems and encourage creative thinking. Links to websites describing some of these are given below.

A CLEAR IDEAS application is currently in development. This will allow a larger number of organisations to trial the approach.

The presenters’ slides and a recording of the webinar are available below:

Angela Barnes NAVCA 1 7 14

K Birdi clear ideas 1 7 14

Webinar recording

Resources on problem diagnosis and creative thinking:

The TRIZ approach


TRIZ toolkit from IMechE, including ‘smart little people’



5 (or 7) whys?


Fishbone diagram


Some creative thinking tools: