How to Successfully Establish a New Thematic Area

January 15, 2019 by Simona Blazheska

Staying in our comfort zone at work can have the same impact on our career like the smoke of cigarettes has on our health: slowly it will kill our proactivity, curiosity and eagerness for more knowledge. In order to avoid that, we should constantly try to find new tasks and projects that will help us grow as professionals, as well as provide added value to the institution we work for.

My latest professional challenge – establishing a new thematic area in the CEF learning program – was an exciting journey that made me think more about the design of the process of developing a certain idea, from its early beginning all the way to its realization. So, have a look at the five phases that are inevitable to go through when you are about to introduce something new and unknown to your organization.

First of all, there must be a need that should be recognized. My team and I have identified the learning needs in the SEE region for more training in econometrics and statistics, and our partners have given us helpful details and directions how to proceed with the ideas. New projects, products and services give answers and solutions to existing problems or challenges.

So, in order to find the answer, we first need to find something that we think is existing on the market, but somehow needs more attention. Sometimes, you and your team will be the ones who will recognize the opportunity to be captured. Now and then, a partner or a competitor may realize that a new opportunity is just around the corner. In my case, it was a combination of both.

The next phase is the development of the idea. You have identified the problem and now it’s time to offer a solution. Do a proper research at the beginning and try to be as creative as possible! Do not limit yourself! Put all the ideas on paper, regardless of their shape or size. At this phase, it is crucial to challenge yourself. Approach the problem with an open mind and give a chance to every thought that comes to your mind. Only then you will have a pool of diverse ideas and approaches that will give a variety of solutions to the recognized need. Don’t worry about the feedback, it will come later on.

In this phase I did an extensive desk research on my own, followed by a survey with the potential target audience through our partners in the SEE region. As a result, I had a comprehensive overview about the learning needs of the institutions that we wanted to address. I put all my ideas and the information collected on paper and structured the first draft: Outline for the new thematic area.

After completing the second step, the process continues with presenting the idea internally – within your organization. I decided to call a one-hour meeting where I presented my ideas to the team. In the invitation I included a document that contained what I had developed in the previous phases, stating clearly the recognized need and offering a couple of concepts how to address them.

The session was structured in the following way: presentation of the ideas by me, followed by a discussion with the colleagues. During the second part what matters most is to create avenue for brainstorming and fruitful conversations. Be ready to clarify the matter to your colleagues, but at the same time be bold to admit that some issues are still a challenge for you, too, and you are still searching for the answers. What helped me most in this phase is the feedback from my colleagues that showed me different ways how to capture the learning needs that I was targeting. Moreover, by reading the initial paper with my ideas and attending the workshop my colleagues also perceived the complementarity of the new idea to their work and projects.

After rethinking the whole concept and implementing colleagues’ proposals, my next move was to present it to the management. The aim of this step was to introduce the new thematic area and show the synergy with the existing learning program of the CEF. The management gave me strategic directions how to proceed. We concluded that a new cross-cutting theme would enrich our learning program and would align well with the overall vision and strategy of the organization. At this point, knowing that I had the support of all colleagues gave me additional motivation to continue achieving my goal.

Although having internal support is extremely important when you try to implement something new, I strongly advise you to also consult external stakeholders, before going public. It might be that the whole team is very enthusiastic, so there is a positive bias for the new idea, while some potential weaknesses cannot be seen. I shared the draft outline with a couple of external experts whom we trust. They provided very useful feedback, which on one hand acknowledged our idea, and on the other hand pointed out some additional aspects that we had not recognized ourselves.

Finally, when you have implemented all the suggestions and aligned the idea with the institution’s overall strategy, go public and present to the world what you have developed. I presented for the first time in public the new CEF cross-cutting theme Data and Analysis for Designing Policies at the Annual CEF Advisory Board and Partners Meetings in 2018. Our partners praised us for the idea, which made me and the whole CEF team very proud of our work and joint efforts!

Having the opportunity to see how our thoughts turn into reality is a professional dream that each of us desires. But we should be aware that the story does not end there. Through time the project grows, evolves and needs changes, adjustments and upgrades. The circle never stops. So, a new professional challenge is on the horizon! Are you ready to take it on?

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