The process of innovation is often compared to the process of evolution as it is fundamentally a dynamic process of improvement and adaptation which strengthens organisations’ ability to survive and thrive. Despite its complexity and unpredictability, a successful innovation process is usually seen as proactive rather than reactive, and can be said to include some or all of five key elements:
- Recognition of a specific problem, challenge, or opportunity to be seized, in relation to the provision of humanitarian aid.
Invention of a creative solution, or novel idea, which helps address a problem or seize an opportunity.
Development of an innovation by creating practical, actionable plans and guidelines.
Implementation of an innovation to produce real examples of changed practice, testing the innovation to see how it compares to existing solutions.
Diffusion of successful innovations - taking them to scale and leading to wider adoption outside the original setting.
The different grants types awarded by the HIF focus on different stages in this process. This five stage process is useful for tracing the progress of innovations, but it should not be taken to suggest that all innovations are linear processes. Rather than clearly defined stages, these are broad and overlapping phases through which many innovations pass. In reality, progress is iterative and frequently non-linear – some innovations might never get past the early phases, and others might be discarded and later revived only after a fortuitous event or different application. There is no set path for innovation, and most innovation processes feature moments of serendipity, randomness and good or bad fortune.
For a more detailed exploration of any of the issues discussed in these pages, please read ALNAP’s 2009 study on Innovations in International Humanitarian Action, or contact Kim Scriven, ALNAP’s Research and Innovations Officer.