3 Stages of development

5 areas of progress through these stages

This stage is all about creating a really good concept. It’s a “valid” concept once there’s a clear theory of how it will have impact, signs users want it and an idea of how it can sustain itself financially.


Here the focus is on turning the concept into a solution that’s up and running. It’s a “proven” solution once there’s evidence it’s having its intended social impact, is appreciated by users and can generate sustainable revenue.


The solution is now stable, standardised and consistent. It continues to improve, and can also extend so it has even deeper or broader impact, attracts more and more active users, and evolves its revenue streams to support long term sustainability and growth. There’s no end to this stage.


5 areas of progress through these stages

the product, service or programme
the capacity to deliver impact
the capacity to meet user needs
the capacity to be financially sustainable
the people developing and delivering the solution
the product, service or programme
Teams investigate their chosen problem and the needs of potential users, identify and explore opportunities for innovation and gradually narrow and refine their thinking into a specific concept.

End of stage milestones

  • A detailed concept or a lightweight prototype
  • A design and testing plan that can be delivered by the core team and its partners
  • An assessment of existing products, tools or technologies that could be leveraged or adapted to support initial design and development
Teams work through cycles of design and testing, gradually standardising the solution. They often make a transition from testing in controlled environments to testing and delivery in the intended context.

End of stage milestones

  • A standardised solution that is delivered consistently
  • The establishment of the systems, processes or technologies that will support consistent and sustainable delivery
  • Evidence of changes and improvements that have been made based on testing and delivery in the intended context
Teams are balancing the demands of delivery and, if relevant, growth, with ongoing improvement of the solution and extending and, if relevant, scaling or transferring it to different environments.

Advanced stage milestones

  • A stable and established solution
  • Identifiable core assets and intellectual property that supports delivery
  • Less reliance of key individuals
  • The processes to support continuous improvement of the solution
the capacity to deliver impact
Teams explore their chosen problem and develop a clear framework to explain how they think their solution will have an impact and how they plan to measure it. They use their research and early testing to inform their design, giving the solution the best chance of having social impact.

Ways to make progress

  • Using literature reviews, desk research and expert interviews to:
    • Map the key drivers of the social problem
    • Identify affected audiences
    • Review the main theoretical models around the issue
    • Identify what they will measure to show change and the tools they’ll use to measure it (eg existing scales)
  • Identifying other interventions tackling the issue
  • Identifying others working in the area and their specialisms
  • Creating a clear description of how the solution has impact and how this impact will be measured (aka a Theory of Change)
  • Feeding findings into the design process

End of stage milestones

  • A Theory of Change
  • Identification of key assumptions (things that must be true for the solution to have impact)
  • Evidence that the assumptions are realistic. Evidence could include existing research, expert opinion, or initial prototype testing
Teams show their solution is working by running tests that collect objective evidence of impact and explore the ways in which impact is made. This evidence informs ongoing design.

Ways to make progress

  • Conducting interviews, focus groups and/or ethnography to explore how the solution is used and the ways it has impact
  • Running lightweight tests to explore the impact of the solution and how best to measure it
  • Running exploratory trials e.g. to explore effect size
  • Running experimental and quasi-experimental studies (eg RCTs, regression analysis)
  • Analysing automatically collected data e.g. usage data

End of stage milestones

  • Statistically significant evidence showing that the solution is causing the social impact (e.g. RCTs)
  • Qualitative research exploring how the solution is having an impact in its intended context
  • Behavioural data linking the solution to the impact
Impact data is collected every time the solution is used. Teams use this data to make changes to the solution that deepen and broaden its impact. Ongoing trials provide evidence it has a consistently positive impact on the issue.

Ways to make progress

  • Building automatic data collection and reporting capacity
  • Integrating the use of impact data into the design cycles
  • Codifying what’s required for successful delivery and/or replication of the solution
  • Setting up external evaluations of the solution
  • Carrying out internal evaluations verified by external bodies
  • Carrying out trials of the solution outside of the original intended setting

Advanced stage milestones

  • An integrated data collection system within the solution that captures intended impact of the solution as well as emerging additional impacts
  • A system for feeding emerging insights into the development process to continue broadening impact.
  • Multiple evaluations, including external evaluations, show the solution is having its intended impact (in multiple settings)
  • Evidence of influence in the field, eg other actors use the solution as a basis for developing similar or new solutions
the capacity to meet user needs
Teams understand what their specific target user group wants and needs. They develop and test a concept that will meet this need and fit into the user’s world.

Ways to make progress

  • Surveys, focus groups, interviews, observation and desk research to:
    • Define and segment audience
    • Create user personas (including norms, drivers and barriers to behaviour)
    • Gather evidence of an unmet or poorly met need
    • Develop design principles for target users
    • Map competitors
    • Identify opportunities to innovate and differentiate
  • Co-creation with users and other relevant people
  • Defining a clear concept with the potential to meet users needs
  • Testing and iterating the concept or light-weight prototype with users
  • Developing an initial brand strategy
  • Developing an engagement strategy to attract early users

End of stage milestones

  • Description of target user group – showing an understanding of their world, needs, desires and priorities
  • Evidence of an unmet need (with information on size of the market and strength of the need)
  • Evidence of differentiation from competitors
  • Positive user feedback on the concept or light-weight prototype
  • Expressions of interest from potential users
Teams test, iterate and sometimes pivot their solution based on feedback from users. Growing numbers of people are using and choosing the solution outside of a test environment.

Ways to make progress

  • Conducting observation, surveys, focus groups, interviews and website analytics to test and iterate early prototypes and versions of the solution
  • Piloting or launching a community of beta users
  • Developing and improving brand strategy
  • Developing and implementing engagement strategy (e.g. marketing and community management)
  • Establishing route to market or brand partnerships
  • Measuring user numbers and levels of user satisfaction

End of stage milestones

  • Evidence of users engaging in the solution in its intended context
  • Evidence of (ideally growing) traction amongst users (e.g. sign ups, referrals, sales)
  • Consistent positive qualitative and quantitative user feedback, including data around user satisfaction, uptake, recommendation, repeat or sustained use
  • Evidence of highly active users (e.g. volunteers, fans, contributors)
  • Qualitative evidence that brand and engagement strategy resonate with target users
Teams can maintain deep, consistent user engagement, have an active network of advocates and are evolving the solution to meet further user needs for a potentially wider audience.

Ways to make progress

  • Establishing ongoing, automatic processes for:
    • measuring and optimising user acquisition, retention and levels of satisfaction
    • gathering additional quantitative and qualitative data on users
    • identifying and acting on opportunities based on emerging trends, changing user needs and changes in the market
  • Segmenting audience to understand existing user base
  • Ongoing refinement of brand strategy
  • Ongoing development of engagement strategy

Advanced stage milestones

  • Consistent and predictable positive qualitative and quantitative data from users (e.g. higher customer satisfaction scores, improved NPS, loyalty metrics)
  • Systems for measuring and maintaining predictable levels of user acquisition, retention and levels of satisfaction (ideally autonomous)
  • Predictable conversion from users to highly active users (e.g. volunteers, fans, contributors)
the capacity to be financially sustainable
Teams identify and analyse potential revenue sources that could sustain and, if relevant, scale their solution beyond initial funding or investment.

Ways to make progress

  • Building an overall map of the sectors, markets and stakeholders related to the problem(s) and audience(s) in focus, through desk research and consultation
  • Creating case studies of relevant competitor and analogous business models, through desk research and interviews
  • Scoping of relevant sources of revenue e.g. paying users, commissioners, or grant funders
  • Conducting interviews or co-design sessions with potential customers, commissioners, or grant funders to identify the highest value problem(s) to solve
  • Developing a basic business model hypothesis (e.g. filling in the Business Model Canvas)

End of stage milestones

  • Size and segmentation of potential future revenue sources, including an evidenced summary of each segment’s needs and preferences
  • Map of competitor products, services, or programmes to establish clear points of differentiation for the solution
  • A value proposition demonstrating how the solution meets the specific needs and priorities of whoever is paying for it
  • A business model hypothesis stating how the solution will generate revenues and the estimated cost of delivery
  • An early business plan and roadmap, including how target revenue sources will be engaged
The business model is tested and developed, with teams exploring it’s long-term sustainability.

Ways to make progress

  • Testing the value proposition with customers, commissioners, grant funders or social investors
  • Piloting and Beta testing with whoever is paying for the solution
  • Development and validation of a sustainable revenue model (e.g. drawing on existing examples, customer data and experience)
  • Building delivery and route-to-market partnerships
  • Refining and optimising the delivery model for the solution to minimise costs and maximise value for money

End of stage milestones

  • Commitments or positive feedback from customers, commissioners, sponsors, grant funders or social investors
  • Evidence this feedback is being used to refine the solution and business plan
  • Evidence of revenue traction, moving from short-term or one-off income (e.g. innovation funding, seed funding, own resources) to repeatable and, if relevant, scalable types of revenue (e.g. initial commissions, early sales, outcome focused grants)
  • A detailed and feasible business plan that outlines the steps to becoming sustainable
The solution is generating revenue consistently, using a replicable model, delivering strong value for money.

Ways to make progress

  • Establishing financial management and accounting functions that support stability and growth
  • Developing systems for generating revenue that reduce reliance on key individuals
  • Capturing data and feedback from customers, commissioners, sponsors, grant funders or social investors and using this to refine the solution, its marketing and its revenue generation strategy
  • Analysing how much it costs to develop and deliver the solution and using this data to find efficiencies
  • Investigating opportunities for income in new markets or contexts and diversifying revenue streams

Advanced stage milestones

  • Delivery of the solution is generating a surplus that supports a combination of improvement, growth, diversification and stability
  • Financial management systems and effective analysis of accurate financial data. to improve value for money, and support consistent revenue generation
  • Growth or diversification of revenue streams
  • Evidence of investment in improvement and/or innovation that further strengthens income generation potential and financial sustainability
the people developing and delivering the solution
Key individuals come together and make commitments to taking the concept forward, and leaders for the project emerge. As well as relevant personal or professional experience, the team has the skills and knowledge to undertake or manage the initial design and development.

End of stage milestones

  • A team with the resources, personnel and skills to support the initial development of the solution
  • Identification of additional or specialist skills and expertise required for initial phase of design
  • A growing network of partners that provide access to expertise, networks, target audiences or assets required for design and testing
Independent teams gradually establish stable management and organisational capacity, while those working within existing organisations find the balance between independence and integration.

End of stage milestones

  • The capacity required to deliver, maintain and improve the solution exists within the team or via established and sustainable partnerships
  • Clear people-management procedures
  • An organisational structure that supports leadership with oversight and strategy
The team has established organisational and governance structures and standardised operational processes. There is a management system that reduces reliance on key individuals and a leadership team with clear strategic goals. The organisational culture and capacity supports the ongoing improvement of the solution.

Advanced stage milestones

  • Robust organisational, HR and governance structures and processes
  • Standardised operational processes
  • A clear organisational culture recognised and practiced by all team members
  • A strong leadership team with oversight of the organisation and clear vision for future development
  • Less reliance on key individuals
  • A team prepared to respond effectively to external changes and shocks
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