The Innovate Phase: Co-creating Evidence-informed Solutions to Improve Human Services Programs

Publication Date: April 24, 2019
Cover to The Innovate Phase: Co-creating Evidence-informed Solutions to Improve Human Services Programs

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The Learn, Innovate, Improve (or LI2) process is a way for human services leaders to intentionally launch and systematically guide program change and to incorporate evidence and research methods into such efforts. This practice brief provides an overview of the second phase of LI2—the Innovate phase—which is intended to help both researchers of human services programs and those who administer programs to generate new and innovative ideas to address pressing challenges. The Innovate phase includes three steps: (1) planning and prioritizing; (2) generating ideas; and (3) defining a potential solution.


The LI2 process stems from a desire to more effectively use and produce evidence through meaningful collaboration between human services program staff and researchers. This approach seeks to overcome some of the persistent challenges programs and researchers commonly encounter in their attempts to inform practice with research, such as the limited practical relevance of some research publications and clearinghouses; differences in communication styles (research “speak” and practice “speak”), which can impede collaboration; and limits on program capacity to systematically use an analytic, evidence-driven process for change and improvement. This brief introduces the Innovate phase, which encourages multiple stakeholders to come together in a participatory process to collectively explore and prioritize evidence-informed solutions to a shared problem.

LI2 repurposes and reframes existing, reliable research methods into an understandable and replicable series of steps. LI2 gives careful attention to high-quality, context-driven implementation—in other words, it focuses heavily on designing for or adapting to the local environment. Through the Innovate phase activities, participants draw on research evidence, social science theory, and practice wisdom to collaboratively produce a road map for change. The road map serves as the team’s working design document and their evaluation guide by defining the standards for quality implementation and measuring results.

Key Findings and Highlights

Building on the foundational work accomplished through the Learn phase, the Innovate phase begins with a design plan, which involves:

  • The people involved in the design process, including a leader;
  • A concise statement of the problem to be solved;
  • Measurable goals and objectives; and
  • Specific activities and strategies to generate ideas and make decisions.

A design plan’s strength relies on incorporating a variety of perspectives—specifically among underrepresented people and those with little-to-no decision-making power.

The second step of the Innovate phase focuses on generating new ideas through a facilitated series of activities. These activities are meant to diverge from a common problem statement to explore many possibilities for solutions. The activities then converge from many plausible ideas to a few priority ideas. Human-centered design methods are one approach to organizing these activities and facilitating the idea generation process.

The third step of the Innovate phase culminates in the creation of a road map for change—a simplified, intuitive logic model intended to help the team articulate priority ideas. The road map defines and specifies the strategy along with its intended targets—that is, specific changes within people such as attitudes, behaviors, knowledge, skills, or relationships that are believed necessary to produce measurable outcomes. The road map also names anticipated factors within the organizational environment that may help or hinder strategy implementation, intended targets, or outcomes.


Derr, Michelle K., Jonathan McCay, and Ann Person (2019). The Innovate Phase: Co-creating Evidence-informed Solutions to Improve Human Services Programs, OPRE Report #2019-45, Washington, DC: Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

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