WHO IS ALICE OBRECHT?
“Innovation has always been part of the sector. You can think of the establishment of the Red Cross societies as innovation.“
The idea of innovation has become so popular in the development and aid community that, unsurprisingly, it is difficult to keep up. There seem to be forums, conferences, blogs (and yes, even this podcast) that are putting information out there for your consumption to the point of overwhelm and it can be difficult to cut through the noise to create a better understanding of what works – and more importantly – what doesn’t when it comes to better serving those in need.
Luckily, there are also people out there like Alice Obrecht who are helping to curate some of the learning around innovation and make it accessible to everyone. In this 102nd episode of Terms of Reference, I speak with Alice about her work as a Research Fellow at the Secretariat for the Active Learning Network for Accountability and Performance (ALNAP), where she is currently leading research on the themes of innovation and effectiveness. And, as part of this work, she has led the ALNAP Secretariat’s involvement in the World Humanitarian Summit process.
This isn’t, of course, Alice’s first gig in our industry. Prior to joining ALNAP, she worked in policy research at several institutions focusing on capacity building of regional inter-governmental institutions as well as accountability practices and frameworks both in and outside the humanitarian aid sector.
Check out Alice’s (and others’) innovation research at ALNAP here: http://www.alnap.org/what-we-do/innovation
Join the launch of the research Alice and I discuss in this episode here: http://www.odi.org/events/4354-innovating-humanitarian-action-more-just-luck
You can connect with Alice here:
IN TOR 102 YOU’LL LEARN ABOUT:
- How ALNAP conducts research and communication on innovation within the humanitarian field.
- ALNAP’s definitions of innovation, building bridges across humanitarian innovators worldwide.
- The stages of innovation and the success factors.
- On HIF and their successful innovation funding efforts.
- The complexities of innovation and risk working with private partners as well as within large organizations.
- Alice’s views on humanitarian innovation trends, and the career prospects of a humanitarian innovator.
OUR CONVERSATION INCLUDES THE FOLLOWING:
- Enhancing Learning and Research for Humanitarian Assistance (ELRHA)
- ELRHA’s Humanitarian Innovation Fund (HIF)
- Overseas Development Institute (ODI)
- Save the Children
- World Food Bank
- System-wide analysis and monitoring
- Case studies
- Adaptive Programming
- Stages and Success Factors
- Sustainability and commercialization
- West Africa
EPISODE CRIB NOTES
Forums, Conferences and Podcast on Innovation for Aid.
The importance of curating aid innovation.
Active Learning Network for Accountability and Performance.
Member-based organization since 1997.
Strengthen evidence-based humanitarianism in two areas:
1) Improving quality of evaluations.
2) Provide system-wide analysis and monitoring. ALNAP produces an annual report.
Also, looks for areas where progress can be made.
Alice is a research fellow
Works on the topics of effectiveness and innovation.
Her main work on innovation in the humanitarian sector, in partnership with Enhancing Learning and Research for Humanitarian Assistance (ELRHA).
Innovation partners’ definition of innovation
One of the key issues is distinguishing innovation from “the usual, what we do anyway.” Tricky question.
Case studies and talks with project leaders to answer. Responses:
1) “Your doing something differently at a sector or system level, beyond yourself, your team or your organization.” This implies there are no previous evaluations, other people’s experiences to rely upon.
2) “You are seeking improvement at a sector or system level.“
3) “You are doing inherently iterative work.” It is adaptive. Uses and methods will come up along the way, not beforehand.
Colleagues at Overseas Development Institute (ODI) UK, look at Adaptive Programming. Alice sees a lot of things in common between AP and Innovation.
Innovation was not a topic in humanitarian aid. “That is not to say that innovation was not happening.” But innovation as activity and output has not been clearly defined, thus not approached as an explicit component.
’09 ALNAP Introduces their first work on humanitarian innovation. It led to the Humanitarian Innovation Fund (HIF), a funding entity for innovation processes.
HIF has provided funding and contributed to ALNAP’s case studies about programs, prototypes and systems. “They have funded a wide range.“
Alice’s Toughest Jobs
15 case studies so far. “In-depth, intensive.“
Tries to provide answers at the team level. At a Nepal wheelchairs project, she tries to find out what works and is similar when OCHA is developing a data translation service across organizations.
“It there a single coherent practice that we can call innovation?“
There are 5 stages: #1 Recognition (of a problem or opportunity for improvement) #2 Ideation #3 Development #4 Implementation #5 Diffusion.
Diffusion is the most complicated thing to keep track of, particularly in humanitarian aid.
Success factors (7)
#1 Collaboration #2 Organized processes #3 Engagement #4 Responsiveness #5 Culture #6 Flat hierarchies #7 Evidence integration.
More activity, research and monitoring is needed.
Measuring recognition is tricky, it affects setting it as a fundable goal project.
Back to the issue of diffusion, now as it links with scaling humanitarian innovation.
Organizations take steps forward towards global collaboration but there are still roadblocks. Rolling out good ideas has been better with the presence of private partners.
On with private partners
Thinking about sustainability implies involving them.
Commercialization might be the best way towards diffusion.
“We need different models for different innovations,” with different scales.
HIF is very diverse in projects, partners and models, pursues the 7 success factors.
They are quick, nimble. Still trying to break ground turning donors into innovation buyers.
On with large humanitarian organizations
Innovators are open people, including mistakes and learning.
Bigger agencies are more sensitive, conversations take a larger scope: Risk.
Large organizations should be more open, at least internally.
“Risk to what?” Project performance objectives on one hand, driven by donors expectations.
Again, agility. Teams cannot expect to know everything that will happen beforehand. It’s much more sensible to be ready to respond to the unknown.
“Risk to whom?” It’s often said that organizations are risk averse. But it is unknown where the value proposition of risk falls and who should consider it.
IFRC. Their case study showed involvement of population with crises, including a component of feminine hygiene. There was an IFRC advocate who designed a hygiene kit, but she did not do it single handedly. It was a collective endeavor that took into account most issues from actual users. Many redesigns, even upcoming ones.
The value of participatory approaches is high, but it is not always financially or politically feasible
Innovation in humanitarianism and development
“A new hub launches every week, it seems.“
Offices are good but having a person leading efforts from within is a good way to start, as long as the person has real involvement.
A preference for women to be on top on projects, especially in some fields.
At the end of the day, it’s about creativity and leadership.
Technical aspects do have some male prominence. Not a bad thing in itself.
Lack of women in some fields, but not on innovation as a whole nor in leadership positions.
Synthesis report due April 21st.
Next, work with HIF on dissemination, diffusion activities, with learnings already published.
Making outcomes more innovation friendly.
Is there such a thing as a humanitarian innovator career path?
Currently it is project management positions who “fall into doing an innovation project.“
There is a real need for tools and practices, therefore possibly innovator specialists.
They must have technical knowledge and “translation abilities,” plus an agile or adaptive project management mindset.
This will become a need in years to come.
Please share, participate and leave feedback below!
If you have any feedback you’d like to share for me or Alice, please leave your thoughts in the comment section below! I read all of them and will definitely take part in the conversation.
If you have any questions you’d like to ask me directly, head on over to the Ask Stephen section. Don’t be shy! Every question is important and I answer every single one.
And, if you truly enjoyed this episode and want to make sure others know about it, please share it now:
Also, ratings and reviews on iTunes are very helpful. Please take a moment to leave an honest review for The TOR Podcast!