Making and learning

Making and learning is the process of developing and testing your ideas using prototypes.

“Making” is about bringing ideas to life quickly and inexpensively through visuals and experiences that simulate how your idea might work. When you make ideas real, it becomes easier for people to give you feedback, add to your ideas and help you figure out how to take them to the next step.

“Learning” is about the testing process that goes with prototyping. Testing helps you get really clear about what you need to learn in order to assess the potential of your ideas. A testing process also helps you make sure you gather the evidence you will need to demonstrate the potential of your ideas.

The ideas and stories captured here were shared by members of the Regional Innovator’s Network (RIN) during a peer learning session on 22 May 2018.
This content was further enriched by the experience that The Australian Centre for Social Innovation (TACSI) has had in this space. As we continue to try, test and prototype ideas in regional NSW we will continue to tweak this approach to incorporate learnings on adapting this process and methods to regional contexts.


Quick Summary

Making: working with prototypes

  • What is prototyping
  • Prototyping methods

How does it work?

  • Moving from making to learning: the process of creating a test
  • Step 1: Determine what you are trying to learn
  • Step 2: Develop something to help you learn: prototype!
  • Step 3: Identify how to collect the evidence you need

What helps?

  • Test your test
  • Lean on the process
  • Look for the energy
  • Just try it!

What hinders?

  • Don’t overthink it
  • Don’t forget to identify what you learned

Making: working with prototypes

What is prototyping?
In an innovation idea, we’re looking for new ideas, new thinking. But there’s never evidence about whether or not these ideas will work. We need something, a thing, that can help us learn whether or not our ideas have potential: this is why we prototype.

Prototyping is creating a ‘learning device’ or model that can help us visually see or interact with the ideas we have in mind. Prototyping is a fundamental part of a design or innovation process because it helps you make choices about what to do before you’ve gone too far down a pathway. It’s more commonly understood in a product design context where designers work with sketches, models and engineering samples before products go into production. In the regional innovation context, the principles and reasons (and even some of the methods) for prototyping remain the same, but it’s harder to explain because prototyping in this context can seem more abstract.

Prototyping Methods
Here are a few of TACSI’s go-to prototyping methods:

  • Paper prototyping – Good for spelling out your ideas
  • Tabletop prototyping – Good for testing logic, flow, interactions, seeing how a service, program or system (might) work
  • Framework prototyping – Good for capturing the components of a whole idea, process, program, service or system
  • Scenario prototyping – Good for thinking through an idea or futuring (e.g. envisioning a potential future situation or context)
  • Enacted (acting) prototyping – Good for testing a process, program, service, interaction or experience
  • Full scale prototyping – Good for operationalising an idea and working out all the details. From the space, to the products needed, to the interactions that will happen between people in our idea


Find attached below a presentation that introduces five prototyping methods. To find out more about these prototyping methods, watch this video:

How does it work?

Moving from making to learning: the process of creating a test
A lot of times when we think “try test learn”, we move straight to action. But without the ‘test’ part of “try test learn” we can lose track of whether or not we did what we set out to do. Also, we may not realise what we learned.

You might think that testing can be complicated, you might think that it’s only for people who wear white lab coats! But with a bit of a process and some tools, you’ll be on your way.

We suggest three steps for prototyping and creating a test.

Step 1: Determine what you are trying to learn
Usually when we are testing, we’re trying to learn about the potential of our ideas or how well a solution works. In the discovery phase, you may have identified key research questions and assumptions. Looking back at those question and assumptions, update them specifically to your ideas. What do you need to learn about your idea to be able to move it forward to the next step?

Step 2: Develop something to help you learn: prototype!
Don’t go into a test empty handed! Figure out what type of prototype will help you answer your questions about an idea.

Step 3: Identify how to collect the evidence you need
Based on your questions, what data will you collect? What form will it take? (stories, quick quotes, numbers or stats that you track, etc.)
When will you collect that data?
How will you collect the data?

“Prototype as if you are right, and then listen as if you were wrong.” – IDEO

What helps?

Test your test

Before you go out an test with all of your target audience, test your test with just a few people. You may need to iterate your prototype and your testing approach to make sure you’re getting the information you need.

Lean on the process
Trust that you’ll learn what you need to learn as you go through the process. Go back to the steps that you need to follow when you feel overwhelmed or lost. Think about where you’re at in the process and reflect on what will happen next. What do you need in order to move to the next stage?

Look for the energy
When an idea has promise or when something is starting to work, “it’s motivating” (Shane Phillips, Dubbo community connector). Look for that energy. People find the energy in different ways, look for yours.

Just try it!
Sometimes the only way you’ll know whether or not something has potential is if you just try it.


What hinders?

Don’t overthink it
Move quickly through the different steps. Test the test: let the feedback you get along the way be your guide. If you think you’re overbuilding things, maybe you are! Ask whether or not what you’re doing is really needed to learn what you have to learn. Go back – what are you really trying to learn here, and what’s the simplest way to do that? Let go of the bells and whistles, focus on the core insight you need.

Don’t forget to identify what you learned
Once you’ve run your test, leave time to reflect and see what you’ve learned. Go back to your key questions and your assumptions. What do you know now?


Frameworks and methods


Related capabilities