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Question assumptions

Question your own assumptions

Looking into existing knowledge sources or involving experts can sometimes be a sobering experience. We will often ask ourselves: with so much knowledge available, what else can our venture contribute? The answer is: quite a lot! After all, this is not just about acquiring knowledge: the real point of the exercise is to use this knowledge to design solutions that improve people’s lives.

Challenge bias

In doing so and to avoid creating a solution that only reflects our own ideas and aspirations rather than those of the people who are actually impacted, we need to understand and challenge our own assumptions.

To this end, we’ll soon be in contact with the key actors. Meanwhile, in preparation for the next step, we’re now going to differentiate our most important insights one last time. For this purpose we’ll use the following Assumptions Triangle to distinguish actual facts from our personal inclinations and suppositions.

This subdivision clearly demonstrates the perspectives from which we view the world. The precise formulation of our assumptions allows us to test the underlying hypotheses based on talking to or observing others.

Assumptions Triangle

Assumptions Triangle

What is it and what purpose does it serve?

The Assumptions Triangle helps separate facts from bias and assumptions. This can reveal any conscious or unconscious bias regarding the problem. As a result, it is possible to harness existing prejudices that are rarely talked about so as to gain a better understanding of the problem.

Added value

Assumptions can be sensitively and accurately verified through contact with key actors. They provide the basis for later observations or an interview guide.

It is rarely the case that our behavior and the way we reach conclusions is based on facts alone. Nobel laureate D. Kahneman identifies two strategies for dealing with the modern world: fast thinking, which is constantly in active mode and involves making rapid, automatic judgments, and slow thinking, which is exhausting, consumes energy, and is activated only when something complex or unexpected arises within the stream of fast thinking.

Assumptions Triangle

Work sheet

60 – 240 minutes


  1. Transfer triangle to a large sheet of paper or movable wall panel.

  2. Enter topic/problem in the middle. What are the sub-areas of the problem under consideration? Use material from the Development Plan, the Tree Analysis and the Knowledge Atlas.

  3. Place existing facts on the left-hand side of the triangle and organize them thematically as appropriate. Use Field A of the Knowledge Atlas for inspiration.

  4. Discuss bias. This might include anecdotal evidence, individual beliefs, or anchor information that has shaped the development of all further thinking on the topic. Write down one aspect per sticky note and place it on the right-hand side of the triangle. Use Field B of the Knowledge Atlas for inspiration.

  5. Identify assumptions. Use Field C and D of the Knowledge Atlas as a starting point and focus on the sub-areas of the problem. Discuss ideas, write them down, then thematically organize and condense them. Focus on three relevant assumptions to be explored in dialog with key actors.

  6. Document the interim outcomes that have emerged. Formulate the most important assumptions in concrete terms as complete sentences. The Interview Guide will be created in Phase 3.

Note: Other important issues will often arise in the follow-up. Additions are useful.