‘Testing like the Best’ for Humanitarian Innovation: An Interview with Innofest

Any time you innovate, making assumptions about the problem you’re tackling, or the initiative you’re proposing can be a deal breaker. A crucial step to any innovation, no matter its size or scale of impact, is to be able to prototype and validate the idea. Innofest have recently published their White Paper on the different innovation methodologies they have tested since 2016, using festival sites as the ideal micro society. We wanted to find out from Innofest how humanitarians can also start testing their initiatives like the best!

Introducing Innofest

We’ve built a testing methodology that helps entrepreneurs and innovators to get practical with the ideas they have. In the first phases of any idea, you have a lot of assumptions about your solution, and even assumptions about the problem, particularly about who your specific market is. Our methodology helps people get themselves out of their bubble, out of their office, out from behind their computer and to start actually testing them.

Innofest have spent five years using the Netherlands’ festival sites as ‘Living labs’, alongside other locations like huge campsites, cities and online surroundings, to create the ideal environment for testing innovation. Christiaan Glerum, Innofest’s innovation expert, explained that having predefined testing spaces allows innovators to explore the reality of their initiative, whilst having the necessary room for error to test their assumptions.

Testing Humanitarian Initiatives?

When it comes to humanitarian aid, the notion of testing is often one of the more complicated aspects of innovating. Christiaan emphasized that this is exactly when testing is most crucial when ensuring impact:

It’s becoming more and more important to experiment, especially if the end situation doesn’t give you this space. Trial and error is best done in an early stage, as this increases your chances for successful implementation and thereby creating impact.

Innofest’s work with the Semilla Sanitation Hubs, a sanitation solution that provides a circular system for refugee camps, is a great example of testing for humanitarian innovation. The nature of their initiative meant that there was little room for error, otherwise running the risk of significantly damaging the hygiene infrastructures of refugee camps:

The testing trajectory with Semilla Sanitation Hubs has been quite extensive. We’ve tested with them 4 times in different settings and across different stages of the technology. Because of this investment of building their own testing space, they are now scaling up and working with a partner in Uganda to get the system working over there. So I think this is a really good example of how this methodology could be useful for NGOs

How to Start Testing Like the Best: Keep it Small!

Are you ready and willing to test your assumptions about an initiative, but not sure where to start? Christiaan’s top tip was to keep things small and simple:

We tend to over think everything, especially in a situation when you’re creating a solution that is not in the area where you work, live, eat and know how people react and live. Keep things simple and start doing tests with the assumptions you have for a solution. Use our methodology to get into cycles of testing, which will help you into the next phase with a better understanding of your solution.

If you are a small NGO and you don’t have an innovation officer or team, you can still innovate! Just make the small steps yourself, and then you can slowly gather the data to make further progress. By doing this, it really shows that you have already gained a good understanding of the problem, and have some insights into the solution.

Fancy testing like the best? Check out their white paper (Dutch only) via the link, or reach out to chris@innofest.co