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How Problem Spaces are Possibilities for Innovation

What’s your automatic response to the word innovation’?  Given the emphasis within the UK media, industry and HE discourse on STEM, perhaps your first thought is of industrial solutions or novel developments in science, technology or engineering. Despite these common associations, an innovation mindset and approach are relevant for tackling any kind of social or industrial challenge or problem.  

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Innovation is exploring, designing, testing and scaling solutions to problems. 


The latest UK government Innovation Strategy published in 2021 described innovation as the creation and application of new knowledge to improve the world’. The process of innovation is relevant for researchers working in almost all areas of new knowledge creation. 

Researchers constantly encounter and discover problems and problem spaces within their work. From air pollution to misinformation to racism there is scope to reframe problem spaces as impact possibility spaces. Ultimately, problems tend to be examples of situations where peoples’ needs are not being met. This ‘lack’ which problem spaces represent are an opportunity to explore, test and develop existing knowledge and expertise to potentially solve specific problems by developing processes, systems, services and products 

Here are three ways of thinking about innovation in relation to research problems: 

1. Innovation is a creative process which when successful is grounded in a deep understanding of a problem rather than a preconceived idea or solution. 

2. Innovation is applicable to any area of knowledge which when applied has potential to improve societal wellbeing, quality of life, and / or economic security. 

3. Innovation is primarily about people and meeting their needs. Although the outcomes – or end solutions – of innovation are often highlighted, the value of outcomes or solutions is always in their response to a lack (or problem) human beings are experiencing. 

Where a researcher or team have the capacity for deep understanding of a problem, there exists scope to develop a solution which makes meaningful impact within a research area. In fact, university researchers are uniquely well placed to innovate given their specialist knowledge and interdisciplinary connections. This is rich ground for innovation, especially if collaborating with government, charities, SMEs or larger corporates is added into the mix. When innovating towards a solution, a key consideration is actively working with the end users of the solutions or those experiencing a problem. Collaboration enhances the entire process.


If you have an idea and want to explore it, you can experiment with an interactive tool from the Knowledge Transfer Network: this ‘Innovation Canvas’ resource. This iterative tool can help teams innovate from an idea through to a proof of concept and even a final solution.  

The Collaboration Development team within the Research & Knowledge Exchange Office can support you to identify when problem spaces you are working in have the potential create solutions. Where relevant, the team can also then connect you with potential external collaborators from organisations who are looking to make an impact in the same problem space. 

Our University of Westminster values of being progressive, compassionate and responsible are all about making an impact in the world. Through the process of collaborative innovation we can play a key part in making an impact through innovation.  

Danielle Knight

Danielle Knight

Collaboration Partner at University of Westminster
I develop research & innovation partnerships with academic experts, businesses, cultural institutions, local government, charities and NGOs.
Danielle Knight

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