All in UNHCR

How we can better support innovation in emergencies

At the beginning of this year, we wanted to take a critical look at our engagement with the Uganda operation. The Uganda operation was one we invested in heavily as a team, having supported through four missions and on-going remote support from 2016 – 2018. By undertaking this critical review, we wanted to get a better understanding of what went well in and the opportunities to improve our support for innovation in field operations. We wanted to use lessons learned from a more sustained engagement and investment to guide our work moving forward. Evidence-informed iterations are central to all of our work.

Why innovators can come from all parts of an organization

Alpha Diallo was perhaps not the most obvious employee among his colleagues in Abidjan to take on the role of Innovation Fellow. As Head of Administration and Finance at UNHCR’s operation in Côte d’Ivoire, he wasn’t in daily contact with persons of concerns. But he had a hunch that shaking up assigned roles and pushing staff to get out of their comfort zone was just what the operation needed to see fresh ideas bubble up. His work over the past few months has served to prove his point.

A few years ago, Alpha discovered the work of Ideo, a design firm known for its human-centered approach to solving social problems, and was intrigued by the organization’s methods for designing and scaling projects. These methods could likely help the agency incubate new projects to improve its assistance to persons of concerns, he thought. When the Innovation Fellowship was announced, he noticed the program would be using principles that aligned with Ideo’s. The decision to apply was a no-brainer. “It was the perfect opportunity to contribute to changing an organization that is over half a century old,” he recalls.

Innovation metrics for human development – what we have learned

Inspired by the recent frank reflection by UNCHR’s amazing Innovation Team on designing metrics for humanitarian innovation, we would like to share lessons we learned, challenges we are addressing and plans we have moving forward to measure the impact of innovation in and catalyzed by UNDP. As a short background: in 2014, UNDP launched its Innovation Facility to unlock innovation for better development results on the country-level and to help transform the organization. The Innovation Facility is comprised of a small core team of nine innovation advisors, with two based in Headquarters and the others operating from Regional Hubs in direct support of Country Offices and external partners. The key actors are the UNDP intrapreneurs and their partners in our programme countries who push the envelope and do development differently.

Innovation is about diversity and inclusion. Stop with the gimmicks, catch up.

The title says it all. You either get this, or you’re pushing tech and getting your bosses to be excited about products with little success in sustainability, and missing opportunities to innovate processes and approaches.

Our version of the truth is, that if you’re not making innovation accessible, making it inclusive, and encouraging diversity, then you’re not doing what needs to be done to make innovation as effective as it should be.

Why there’s no innovation without experimentation

Experimentation is a crucial part of innovation, and some would argue that there’s no innovation without experimentation. If innovation and experimentation are so closely linked together, before we can start talking about experimentation, we need to understand what innovation is. The big misconception is that innovation is about new ideas: as long as we have ideas, everything else will magically get solved. We associate innovation to colourful post-its and countless brainstorming sessions. Whereas searching for novel ideas is part of innovation and the process, it is not the real challenge and the most challenging part of innovation. Understanding innovation as “the best idea” is a myth and it’s not only a too narrow and simplistic understanding, but it’s also harmful.