What is an idea and how do I come up with ideas?

What is an idea?

According to the OED, an idea is the “conception of a standard or principle to be realized or aimed at; a conception of what is desirable or ought to be; a governing conception or principle; the plan or design according to which something is created or constructed.”

An idea, in other words, is a solution to a problem that we may or may not be aware of. It may respond to a certain need, and it usually benefits individuals or groups.

An idea can be an entirely new approach, something that no-one has thought of before. More often, though, an idea simply means translating a preexistent practice or process to a new context.

Generating new ideas

Here are a few suggestions on how can you come up with ideas more easily:

  • Brainstorm.

    You can make a mind map, a list or any other form of writing down all your thoughts. Push yourself to go beyond what comes to your mind at first. The more ideas you can get down on paper, the more likely it is that there will be a good idea in there.

    Image by Elijah O’Donnell on Unsplash.

  • Research.

    Know what is already out there. If you know the field and problem that you want to work on, you will not only be able to identify gaps but also develop potential new approaches. In fact, generating ideas is closely linked to what Oxford teaches you about research.

Image by Dakota Corbin on Unsplash.

  • Communicate.

    Put your ideas out there and discuss them with friends and colleagues. You will certainly get asked questions and receive valuable feedback. This way you can develop your ideas or come up with new ones.

    Our Oxford Ideas platform encourages discussion and collaboration to help you make the most of your ideas. 

  • Ask ‘old’ questions anew.

    Pick up old questions and try to think of new answers. With digital innovations moving fast, you are likely to find that there are new ways of tackling well-known issues by thinking beyond traditional approaches. Another strategy you can try is to rephrase your questions. This way you will be looking at a problem from a new angle and will be more likely to generate ideas.

Image by Hannah Olinger on Unsplash.

  • Be creative.

    Do something creative that is not directly linked to the problem you are trying to solve. This could be anything from photography to drawing to knitting. Since you’re focused on your creative task, your brain can wander off. Plus, By putting yourself into a situation where you need to be creative, you are adopting the right mindset to come up with more new ideas.

What are your strategies for coming up with new ideas? Share them in the comment section below.

If you already have a good idea for an innovative project and would like to receive funding in order to put that idea into practice, submit your idea on the Oxford Ideas platform until 4 Feb (noon). Please email us at innovation@it.ox.ac.uk if you have any questions.

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IT Innovation – 2019 Staff Challenge

Photo by Robbie Brock CC BY-NC-SA

This 2019 IT Innovation Challenges call is open to all Oxford University staff* who have ideas for digital projects that could benefit the University, its staff or students. Successful ideas will receive funding of up to £40,000.


‘Innovation’ does not have to mean inventing something new or using the latest technology or newest equipment. For this round we particularly welcome ideas for projects using existing tools, knowledge, or technology in new and innovative ways, in new areas, or for new purposes.

As always, we also welcome other ideas for projects that bring benefit to the University, its staff and/or students through digital means.

To submit your idea, or view and comment on ideas submitted by others, go to the new Oxford ideas platform https://oxford.ideascaleapp.eu and register with your University of Oxford email address (firstname.lastname@unit.ox.ac.uk . Single sign-on not yet available). You can add or edit ideas until noon on Monday 4th February 2019 (comments and votes can be added until 11th February).

We are primarily looking for innovative digital solutions that stand a realistic chance of achieving their goals within the constraints of time and funding. The IT Innovation Challenges panel will decide on which ideas will go to the next stage using the following criteria:

  • it is innovative in its approach – by this we mean it utilizes an existing system or service in a new way to tackle a known problem, or develops an entirely new system or service from scratch. We recognize that, in some cases, small, simple changes can lead to really innovative developments so the background context will be taken into account.
  • it meets the challenges set for this particular round or (if part of the ‘open’ category) supports one or more of the University’s strategic aims.
  • the idea demonstrates the potential for a wide impact across the University or meeting one of the University’s strategic goals for external engagement.
  • collaboration is involved. For example, this could be projects involving two or more University units, or partnerships between students and departments
  • the project seems feasible in terms of approach chosen, start-up and completion.

Information about the scheme, the application process and more can be found at http://blogs.it.ox.ac.uk/innovation-challenges/ (see FAQ). For anything else, please contact innovation@it.ox.ac.uk

* Please note: IT Innovation Challenges are open to any member of staff within the University. Due to financial constraints we cannot fund college-only applications but we would encourage college staff to submit their ideas and to seek collaboration with University departments.

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Calls for Ideas (14 Jan-4 Feb 2019)

We are excited to announce that the IT Innovation Challenges will be running three funding rounds in Hilary term.

Photo by Robbie Brock CC BY-NC-SA

We welcome ideas for innovative digital projects that meet one of the three challenges:

IT Innovation Challenges (staff): innovative digital projects that bring benefit to the University (funding up to £40K per project)
Summer of Innovation (students): realise an idea as a digital project supported by professional IT staff (paid summer internship)
GLAM Labs (staff or students): adding value to the user experience of GLAM’s collections, buildings, resources or programmes through digital means (£8-15K per project)

You can submit your idea between 14th January and 4th February (noon) on the new Oxford Ideas platform (please use your University email to create an account). You can also visit the platform to view, comment and vote on ideas submitted by colleagues across the University.

If you have any questions that are not answered in the FAQs, please get in touch with us directly at innovation@it.ox.ac.uk.

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GLAM Labs – new IT Innovation challenge

Ashmolean featuring at the IT Innovation Challenges Showcase event, June 2018. Photo by Robbie Brock CC BY-NC-SA

We are excited to announce that the IT Innovation Challenges will be running three Calls for Ideas in the spring. In addition to the IT Innovation Challenges staff round and the Summer of Innovation call for students (see separate post), we can now announce the GLAM Labs Challenge, a funding opportunity for digital projects adding value to the user experience of GLAM’s collections, buildings, resources or programmes (GLAM =  Gardens, Libraries and Museums).

GLAM Labs exist to help create an environment within GLAM that can confidently develop, pilot, test and evaluate the use of technology to enhance the user experience of physical and virtual spaces. GLAM Labs is about creating an ethos of sharing expertise, developing digital skills among staff and collaborators, and of digital experimentation.

IT Innovation Challenges has already proven an effective vehicle for successfully seed-funding GLAM initiatives such as Cabinet, Oxford Stories and the Hidden Museum. This new GLAM Labs Challenge will be inviting ideas for innovative projects that seek to improve the user experience of both actual and potential users. Projects are expected to:

  • utilise technology to demonstrably and innovatively add value to the user experience of GLAM and its collections, buildings, resources or programmes.
  • encourage collaboration. The collaboration can be between staff from different departments or divisions, between institutions and students, or even with outside organisations and companies.
  • cost between £8-15,000 and be completed by February 2020
  • have an identified GLAM partner or host institution with a staff member from that institution to act as project sponsor. Projects can also run across multiple GLAM sites.

More information about the challenge will be announced before Christmas together with full details of how to apply. We will look to gather short proposals via the online portal by the end of January then invite shortlisted proposals to enter a more detailed application by mid-March with a view to successful projects starting anytime after mid-May.

Exploring Cabinet. IT Innovation Challenges Showcase event, June 2018. Photo by Robbie Brock CC BY-NC-SA

Of course, if you have a bigger ambition for an innovative GLAM project that costs more than £15K, you can apply through the normal Innovation challenges. Likewise, if you are a student and would like to work on a digital project affiliated with a GLAM partner, you can apply to our Summer of Innovation round (opening in Hilary Term).

So, get thinking!

Questions about GLAM Labs? Please visit the GLAM Digital Strategy page)

Questions about the IT Innovation Challenges in general or any of the calls this year, please contact innovation@it.ox.ac.uk

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Meet the new project: Open Cabinet

In this interview, Kathryn Eccles talks about Open Cabinet, which is one of the 2018 IT Innovation staff projects. She outlines how this project will bring benefit to members of the University and shares some great tips for applying to the IT Innovation Challenges funding scheme.

Open Cabinet will use augmented reality (AR) technology to create new opportunities for virtual handling of 3D artefacts in museums. The project has two main aims. Firstly, it will embed objects more deeply into the learning experience at Oxford by creating animated AR experiences within museum displays, amplifying the objects’ power and meaning through the rich contexts the galleries provide. Secondly, it aims to enhance the public visitor experience by using this innovative technology to improve access to objects without altering the highly-valued appearance and atmosphere of the museums. The Pitt Rivers Museum holds significant material (text, images, audio, video) relating to its artefacts, and AR provides a mechanism for both ‘extending’ displays by employing these rich materials, and adapting them for visitors with diverse needs, all without the intrusion of permanent, fixed screens in galleries. As the content is activated by a device held up to the display, the Open Cabinet project can encourage deeper engagement whilst avoiding ‘heads down’ distraction.

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Announcing the IT Innovation Challenges 2018/19

We are pleased to announce that the scheme will be inviting both staff and students to submit project ideas in early 2019, to be considered for funding by the scheme. The IT Innovation Challenges scheme supports innovative ideas that can be developed into digital projects and bring benefit to the University or enhance the staff or student experience.

Summer of Innovation

This year we are introducing the Summer of Innovation for students. Students are invited to share their innovative ideas and, if selected, go on to realise these as digital projects with support from the scheme. Being part of the Summer of Innovation will be similar to doing a paid internship, and students will be offered training and guidance to gain project management and digital skills and realise their idea.

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Know Your Oxford: Guided Audio Tour now available

Know Your Oxford is a free guided audio tour for new and prospective students at Oxford.

If you’ve just started studying at Oxford University or you’re thinking about applying, Know Your Oxford will help you to find your feet in the city.

Using a free app on your smartphone (or this website), you’ll get an insider’s view to student life in central Oxford – hearing first-hand from those who know what it’s like to be a student here, and helping you to settle in.

This project was made possible by the 2017/18 IT Innovation Challenges scheme.

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Managing your time

Starting a project from scratch can seem overwhelming, especially if you have never worked on a long-term project before. There are so many tasks that need to be done, but only so much time in a day. So where do you even start?

We have collected some tips and ideas that will help you to think about time management. Once you are in control of your time, completing your project will become much easier. Of course these tips also come in handy in your student and working life. Continue reading

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Currently completed: VESPa – the Virtual Environment Sampling Platform

What is VESPa and how does it work? In this interview, Maureen Doyle, project manager of VESPa – the Virtual Environment Sampling Platform, explains how the tool works and how it can help students with acquiring sampling skills. Continue reading

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The story behind… VESPa – the Virtual Environment Sampling Platform

What it is like working on an IT Innovation Challenges project and what does it take to complete a project? In this interview, Maureen Doyle, project manager of VESPa – the Virtual Environment Sampling Platform, reflects on her experiences as project manager.

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