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Detect blind spots

Assess existing knowledge

When dealing with complex problems, we need to broaden our horizons.

Internal knowledge

At the beginning of any inquiry process, those who possess internal knowledge have to be involved first. Often, more know-how is available inside our own organization than we might think at first glance.

Where is work being done on similar issues? What ongoing projects, programs, or internal organizational processes are there within our own organization? What is already happening? Through our innovation process, we can build on hurdles or unanswered questions that have already arisen in other departments, avoiding duplication of effort and involving the colleagues responsible in an efficient manner.

Internal knowledge holders

In large organizations in particular, it is difficult to involve the relevant knowledge holders without the necessary personal contacts and internal network structures – as well as the permission to use them. Regular network meetings are ideal for getting an overall picture of ongoing activities, the people involved, relevant solutions and the knowledge available. Topic-Based Networking is an effective and entertaining approach that can serve as a stimulus here.

External data

Statistics allow us to gain an understanding of whether we should expand or limit the problem focus. Historical data can be helpful in this regard, too. The German Federal Statistical Office collects and processes such data and makes it available for use at

External knowledge

Positive and negative examples can also come from the private, nonprofit, or academic sectors, and they may be available in other communities and administrations, too. We can improve our work by being aware of what others are developing and how they are going about it. Cross-sector dialog contributes to knowledge transfer and network building.

Note:  The inquiry phase can be carried out efficiently between two workshops by distributing the assignments among different team members. To do this, agree on a common format for the team in which to make a note of the various sources used. Collect the results of the inquiry in the Knowledge Atlas.

Topic-Based Networking

Topic-Based Networking

Work sheet

Take a look at the state of research

Depending on the scope of the venture, it is useful to determine the state of research in relation to the topic or problem in question. In order to find out what is already known, we need to carry out a literature search and read relevant studies or reports that relate to the venture.

This approach is both informative and gives us guidance. If we know what other people or organizations have already researched, we can build on this. In this way, we can focus on discovering something genuinely new as we move forward.

This “desk research” culminates in the collaborative structuring of insights into knowledge that:

  • concerns the process or substance of the matter in question
  • is more or less relevant and
  • is located inside or outside our organization(s).

In addition to online academic portals such as and, a lot of useful publications and articles are issued by federal research institutions. To avoid being completely overwhelmed:

  1. Read summaries of research reports that sound interesting.

  2. Take a look at the bibliographies in these articles and possibly seek out sources that are cited in different articles.

  3. Select articles that seem most relevant (preferably from different authors and years), read them in full, and note down what is important for the team to know – always citing your sources!

All the relevant insights we gather during this time in relation to the topic are compiled briefly and concisely in the Knowledge Atlas. This can only represent a portion of the information that exists: full coverage is neither necessary nor possible.

Knowledge Atlas

Knowledge Atlas

What is it and what purpose does it serve?

New questions and possibly doubts are bound to emerge during the inquiry process, in addition to the knowledge collected. During mapping, it is important not to neglect any knowledge gaps but to actively engage with these so as to identify concrete areas of potential. In this way, both knowledge and knowledge gaps can be integrated precisely into the ongoing process.

Added value

By using this 2x2 matrix, we acknowledge that we’re operating in a complex environment. The blind spots we uncover form the basis for further exploration: we can draw on these to solve the problem. We can see what is most relevant moving forward. As a team, we start talking not just about similar things, but about the same things.

The known/unknown matrix was created by American psychologists J. Luft and H. Ingham. Established in 1955, their Johari window is a visual representation of what you know about yourself and what others know about you.

Knowledge Atlas

Work sheet

60 – 120 minutes


Before doing the mapping, note down the sources of inquiry used throughout the process and agree on a common format as a team.

  1. Transfer matrix to a larger working format, e.g. flipchart sheet. Enter the topic or problem as a starting point for filling out the matrix. Each person in the group has a pen and paper or sticky notes.

  2. Start in Field A by inserting existing knowledge gained from inquiry, including the sources.

  3. Collect relevant points in Fields B, C, D using stimulus questions. Each person individually (approx. 15 min): Write down your initial thoughts about the three fields. One aspect per sticky note.

Each person successively (approx. 5 min per person): Read out aloud the aspects you have written down and place them in the relevant fields. Identical and similar aspects can be placed directly next to each other. If necessary, repeat 3.

  1. Existing knowledge is noted in all fields. Now the group can set priorities. What is particularly relevant to solving the problem? The most important points are placed at the center.

  2. Focus on Fields C and D. This is where important issues are located that will need to be explored in greater depth through an investigation in Phase 3, involving key actors. Note which key actors could be consulted about these aspects.

  3. Document the outcomes thoroughly and keep the originals for use later in filling in sections of the Assumptions Triangle.