DCHI Annual Event – October 3rd, 2018
During the DCHI Annual Event in the Hague, the parallel break out session on moving ‘From Pilot to Scale’, attracted an interesting mix of people, from the humanitarian, public and private sectors. The aim of the discussion was to share important elements for success in scaling up innovation projects. An innovative idea is a great start, but what are the conditions for innovations to scale? And how is this different in a humanitarian setting compared to other sectors? The expert panel provided the attendees with different approaches to and experiences with innovation, which was complemented by contributions from the room.
Anne Nieuwenhuis, working for Save the Children and Lead of the South Sudan DRA Humanitarian Response, shared her experiences from an operational point of view . She elaborated on how several partners collaborated to introduce an innovative Cash Transfer Program through electronic vouchers. Considering the challenging environments humanitarians work in, she shared the importance of trust in the process, as well as flexibility by the donor to adapt the program, as organizations will inevitably stumble upon unexpected developments.
Hein Fleuren, Professor at University of Tilburg who’s students have successfully developed and implemented Optimus, explained how this datatool is saving the World Food Programme millions of euros. His starting point is datascience. Using algorithms and data, his team achieved two major innovations: one was making the food basket used by WFP more flexible, not based on the contents or products that are needed but based on the nutrition values. In this way good replacement products can be found. The other is making data smarter to improve logistics and chains of distribution. Thus, his team has shown an effectivity of up to 20-25% compared to the previous methods.
Interestingly, he also gave some examples of how they grew more support in the organisations they were working with, by using gamification to convince the management of the added value of his tool. The mindset is often to spend all money directly on aid and not on innovation since innovation may have uncertain outcomes.
Jennifer MacCann spoke on behalf of Response Innovation Lab, which has scaled numerous innovations in humanitarian context of Iraq, Somalia, Puerto Rico, Uganda and Jordan. She took an analytic approach to the subject and gave some valuable advice. She showed how innovation processes differ from the Silicon Valley or Public setting to Humanitarian context. Innovation is hard and a success rate is lower than 10%. It’s important to know your metrics and to know your weaknesses. For humanitarian innovators she advices to aim for impact, not for solutions.
The overall conclusion was that you can only reach scale by perseverance and strong personal commitment. The business case has to focus on the impact you create and the relationship with your partners have to be based on trust instead of being risk averse. Programming has to allow for flexibility and adaptability so necessary changes can be made along the way.