The Evidence Wall – What detectives can teach you about doing research

A while ago, I wrote an article about trend-watching in which I explained the basics and described how analysing trends can help you create long-lasting innovations. In this one, I will tell you a bit more about it. In this article, you’ll read about one of my favourite trend-watching techniques: The Evidence Wall.

I’m not sure if the love for this technique has something to do with my interest in crime stories and the silent dream of being a detective in a cold case team, but it definitely has something to do with my love for research!

As I explained in my previous article, trend-watching is all about exploring the future by signalling changes. Creating an Evidence Wall helps you understand where these shifts are coming from by giving you a visual overview. This method makes it easier for you to select, cluster, observe and connect (with red thread if you want) all information. As the name gives away: it helps you find the evidence you need to get the most out of your innovation! Are you ready for some detective work?

Spotting the signals

As a true detective can’t find a murderer without traces, you can’t spot trends without signals. So before we can start creating an Evidence Wall we have to spot these. Find as many as you can by doing desk– and field research, read papers, talk to people and look around. Collect everything that stands out to you, it might just be evidence! Ask your team members to do the same, to make sure nothing will be overlooked.

Select the most relevant signals

After the spotting phase, it’s time to select the really interesting input. Put down everything you spotted. Make a rough selection of the most relevant signals, Sherlock Holmes would do the same. Irrelevant traces could point you in the wrong direction and we want to solve that crime (or, in this case, create that long-lasting innovation)! Where necessary you can ask yourself questions like: “is it innovative?”, “does it create impact?” or “does it have a reliable source?”. These questions require you to be critical and as objective as possible in this selection process. Dare to make choices, for the next step you only need the most inspiring ones! Oh, and don’t throw away the unselected signals! They may not be interesting for this case, but they could help you crack a future one.

Link the evidence

Put that deerstalker on because it’s time for the real fun; The Evidence Wall! Collect all the selected signals on a wall. When choosing a wall, try to pick one on which the evidence can be left hanging for a while and where members of the team can also add their thoughts or any new signals. Describe per signal what it is, where it’s spotted and what the main source of reference is. Search (where necessary) for additional signals, move things around and make combinations and clusters. Take a step back and take a closer look. Add sticky notes with your thoughts or some extra information about the connections you’ve made, until you feel you have everything you need.

Now take a few steps back and look at that visual overview you’ve just created. It’s finally time for that red thread. Connect the dots and look for patterns. What do the signals have in common? What unites (most of) them? Suddenly you’ll see clearly what was in front of you all along… With the evidence you have collected, you’ve laid the groundwork for a successful innovation project. A proper trend analysis isn’t complete without first creating an evidence wall. You could say it’s …elementary.

 

Searching for more clues?

Any questions or curious about how an Evidence Wall could bring your innovation to the next level? Give us a call or send me an email. I’d love to tell you all about the possibilities.

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