Innovation platforms are fast becoming part of the mantra of agricultural research for development projects and programmes. Their basic tenet is that stakeholders depend on one another to achieve agricultural development outcomes, and hence need a space where they can learn, negotiate and coordinate to overcome challenges and capture opportunities through a facilitated innovation process. Although much has been written on how to implement and facilitate innovation platforms efficiently, few studies support ex-ante appraisal of when and for what purpose innovation platforms provide an appropriate mechanism for achieving development outcomes, and what kinds of human and financial resource investments and enabling environments are required. Without these insights, innovation platforms run the risk of being promoted as a panacea for all problems in the agricultural sector. This study makes clear that not all constraints will require innovation platforms and, if there is a simpler and cheaper alternative, that should be considered first. Based on the review of critical design principles and plausible outcomes of innovation platforms, this study provides a decision support tool for research, development and funding agencies that can enhance more critical thinking about the purposes and conditions under which innovation platforms can contribute to achieving agricultural development outcomes.