Whether in the classic or social economy, a large part of innovation failures is due to a solution formalisation that does not fit with the users’ needs and expectations.

 I’ve spent the last 5 years working in an accelerator supporting social entrepreneurs in the development of their innovation. I’ve seen a lot of projects as I was in charge of the selection process. Surprisingly, it happens too often that a project that seems well constructed has neglected the ground exploration. This can occur even when the need has been identified and seems to have been analysed with impactful key figures, or when the solution seems to fit perfectly and sometimes even an economic model has been imagined to support its growth. However, when probing further with the project leaders, I realise that the ground exploration has been completely forgotten.

But this exploratory step is key to the success of your social innovation! You have to prove that beyond a beautiful idea, there is a real interest in your project. Not only because it’s a great and well-argued pitch deck but also because you deeply know your beneficiaries. There is the risk of spending a lot of time implementing a solution in which the beneficiaries won’t be interested because it doesn’t meet their challenges and constraints.

 I am now an entrepreneur in the education field and experiment with other difficulties to collect usable data on my target audience. It can happen in many cases but it can be difficult for someone to clearly express their needs through either an interview or a written form. To provide some context, I work with teenagers between the ages of 15 and 18 living in disadvantaged areas. They have a lot of difficulty trusting adults, so it was a real challenge to understand well their needs and daily reality. So, I ran a workshop with our young target beneficiaries in order to help them verbalise their needs.

I wanted to share it with you as it can be very useful in any social innovation process: a simple and effective workshop to help your beneficiaries express themselves.


Introduction to the Speed Boat Tool

Often used in project management, we have adapted the content to allow everyone to verbalise their expectations, constraints and personal brakes. This allows key elements to merge and helps project leaders to better understand their target. And at the same time, to formalise a solution that is really adapted to the expectations of your audience.

This should happen at the beginning of your social innovation process. At this step, you should have identified a need and defined a beneficiary target. Before designing a solution that comes out of your head, you have to ask your target audience about their daily reality. This is the main goal of this tool: to deepen the knowledge of your target.

This tool allows everyone, individually and then collectively, to verbalise the challenges they are facing.


 A step-by-step guide to using the tool

Before the workshop, you have to build up trust with your target. Confidence is the key to a successful engagement. You may have already created a personal relationship with them or you may approach an existing structure that your audience already knows and can help to mobilise it for them. Ideally, aim to bring together 10 to 15 future beneficiaries.

The workshop is structured in 4 parts: We will go through all of them step by step, from the ice-breaker to the solution construction. Let’s see how this social innovation process is used from the ground.

On the D-Day, you have to continue to assure them and then present the main goal of the day. Do not forget to highlight their investment as an actor as part of the social innovation process. This way, they will build the ideal solution that is best suited to them. Use an ice-breaker to establish a climate of trust between yourself and them so that they all feel confident and can express themselves freely.

Source: own elaborated


Once you feel they seem free to work, you can start the workshop and introduce the framework. In the first part, you will guide them so they can individually complete their own speed boat

1. The boat is the central element. It symbolises the target himself. Invite them to present themselves; you can guide them with a few questions according to your interests.

2. The island is the goal to be reached – the ambition, the dream, the ideal to reach for your beneficiaries. This allows everyone to express their goal in relation to their current situation.

3. The wind is the strengths and assets that everyone has to identify in themselves to achieve their goal. This part is as important as the rest; it will allow you to design a solution that builds and values your beneficiaries.

4. Boat ink and sharks are the internal brakes and external obstacles in their way. This part is essential to understand your beneficiaries’ difficulties, availability and fears. It is an essential part that allows you to capture the real needs behind the figures in studies, press articles, etc. It’s essential to understand what your beneficiaries really expect and what they have not yet found with other actors.

With this material, you will be able to design THE solution that is best suited to them and also adapted to their constraints. Last but not least, once everyone has completed the different parts of their speed boat, the ideal is to share the different boats as a group, insisting that each can take inspiration from the others to complete their own speedboat. With certain audiences, it is possible to do everything orally if necessary, alternating between individual reflection time and group sharing.


Go further in the social innovation process and design your solution with your beneficiaries.

You can add a last part and take advantage of the framework of trust and exchanges to go further and imagine concrete solutions together that meet their expectations. The ideal is to do a group creativity workshop to bring out as many ideas as possible. The idea is to identify together the levers and the path between their situation today (the boat) and their goal to reach (the island), taking into account the strengths on which to rely, the brakes to be lifted and the obstacles to dodge: These are parachutes.

– What would help you achieve your goals?

– How can we limit the elements that slow you down?

– What can we rely on to avoid obstacles?

You now have all the information to use this tool and include your beneficiaries in a social innovation process from the ground.



Source: own elaborated


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Arthur Maréchaux

Arthur Maréchaux

Social entrepreneur in the education field, I have been passionate about social innovation since 2011. Before embarking on the entrepreneurial adventure, I worked in different structures with the same ambition to activate, develop and support everyone in the design, implementation and dissemination of social innovations.

The European Commission support for the production of this publication does not constitute an endorsement of the contents which reflects the views only of the authors, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.

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