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Institutionalizing innovation Discussion Paper, Brian Lund, March 2015 Page 2
1 Preamble Arguably Oxfams raison d'tre is to facilitate change. Very often it means changes based on ideas and initiatives in circumstances that we are already familiar with, however this is far from the extent of our work. It would be unreasonable to suggest that all the answers to poverty and injustice are known and the job at hand is simply to roll them out. On the contrary, Oxfam would argue that it is essential to engage in new ideas, new applications and new circumstances. This is why, as a global organization we specifically invest in innovation1. But necessarily, our interest as a global organization must extend beyond simply surfacing innovations to include adaptation and replicability, then incubation in readiness for scale and impact. Add to this, some argue that we should not only be emphasizing innovation but moreso continuous innovation for without this investment we risk lapsing into reliance on traditional work organization that is very often designed to foster standardization and actively discouraging innovation2. All of this underpins the requirement for Oxfam to direct attention to institutionalizing innovation by taking actions that at a minimum include common language and common processes, with the potential to reach to shared responsibilities and accountabilities in investments. This paper is intended to present a framework for discussion then a series of recommendations that would assist Oxfam in building the means to toward enable the discipline needed to institutionalize innovation.
2 Toward institutionalizing innovation An organization as diverse and networked as Oxfam is certainly fertile ground for surfacing innovation. For those privileged to have seen Oxfams work first hand it is clear that there are many innovations at hand and many more in the making here is space for a thousand flowers to bloom3. But it is also clear that most innovations struggle to reach their potential for want of focus and resourcing. To draw a parallel; the vast majority of would-be great small businesses fail. Not because they werent base on good ideas but for reasons of insufficient or inappropriate business development4. This paper seeks to move beyond the general discussion on innovation to address some of the actions that Oxfam might take in order to institutionalize innovation. It seeks to 1) unpack the key elements and requirements of the innovation lifecycle from surfacing to succeeding, 2) to discuss some actions that Oxfam could consider in order to institutionalize innovation and 3) serve as a continuation in the discussion in Oxfam that is building, as Whitehead suggests, upon Oxfams track record of 70 years of social innovation5. Very often individuals like Muhammad Yunus or organizations like Kiva are cited as examples of how to advance innovation but in these types of examples I would argue that the organization typically grows around a singular innovation. These organizations were effectively borne of the innovation with organizational diversity emerging at later stages. Conversely, one of Oxfams strengths is the diversity already across the confederation. However this same strength can present a challenge to attempts at a focus on innovation, scale and impact6. Consequently, for Oxfam, fostering innovation warrants different approaches7 in which Oxfam needs to be able to 1) champion multiple innovations at various levels of maturity while 2) recruiting external and internal supporters.
1 Include reference to Kimberlys definition of innovation prepared for Rockefeller Foundation 2 Stace, D & Dunphy D, (2001) Beyond the Boundaries, 2nd Edition ISBN 007470841 3 Eijkemans, C. (2015) Country Director Oxfam in Cambodia pers. comm 4 Australian Business Council 5 James Whitehead, Social Innovation Food for thought for PLT 6 Goldberg, S makes the same argument but in terms of a multiplicity of small organizations in Billions of Drops in Millions of Buckets (2009) ISBN 9780470454671 7 Oxfam is not unique in this regard. Could build out discussion to include innovation in Kodak, Nisan, DFAT (aust), Rockefeller Think Tanks, Harvard Labs, Adelaide Universitys Systems Approach, others?
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2.1 Championing multiple innovations at various levels of maturity
Using the model of the innovation life-cycle8 as a platform for mapping out an illustrative selection of innovations supported by the Oxfam9 it is possible to make some general observations about innovation in Oxfam; 1_ The majority of innovations have emerged from within the single affiliate. While this can simplify management during the early stages, it tends toward the perception of single-affiliate ownership often making it harder to solicit wider support from across the confederation at later stages. That said there are good examples of ideas being developed in collaboration with other affiliates. This sample includes; a) OUS, ONL, OGB being at the early stages of collectively preparing to test Social Impact Bonds10 b) The DEVATAR Initiative is managed by OUS with incubation funding via OGB11. 2_ The mapping suggests we are able to maintain quite a strong pipeline of ideas aligned with Oxfam strategies. In terms of the innovation life-cycle the strongest concentration is in developing and testing innovative ideas possibly where unrestricted fund allocations where sufficient. The pipeline appears less populated when moving to scale where combinations of unrestricted funding plus restricted funding and coordination with other collaborators is necessary. Arguably this reflects the difficulty of recruiting and resourcing for scale. Diagram mapping the portfolio of innovations recognized in East Asia12
8 Find correct reference. Note that the model should not be interpreted as presuming that the innovation lifecycle follows a singular pathway. 9I have had to use the portfolio of OUS East Asia Office (EARO), simply because that is the work with which I am most familiar. Ideally this discussion should include much more of the cool work that has emerged through the efforts of other affiliates. 10 Discussion paper; Position Oxfam to champion Social Impact Bonds 11 The DEVATAR Initiative an outline 12 The mapping shows all current innovation but only some are discussed in this paper. For details of other innovations please contact the office directly.
Institutionalizing innovation Discussion Paper, Brian Lund, March 2015 Page 4
The same platform can then be expanded to map specific innovations. SRI and SfC are illustrated here. 2.1.1 The System of Rice Intensification (SRI) Originating as a package of (pre-existing) good husbandry practices applied specifically to the hand-planted rice crop. Arguably one of the most significant bottom-up innovations seen in rice growing and also a strong foundation for engagement on development agendas including; smallholder extension; smallholder economies; women in agriculture; agricultural policy; climate change adaptation; etc. 126.96.36.199 Mapping the progress of SRI as an innovation The blue boxes offer some insight into Oxfams experience with respect to particular points in the lifecycle. The pink boxes in the diagram indicate some of the complimentary innovations that have emerged in this lifecycle. While they make good sense when associated with SRI, they can also be mapped separately and/or in association with other innovations. For example, the Rice Dragon and Contracting innovations would be equally recognizable as innovations in BoP market development
188.8.131.52 Oxfams experience in summary SRI was already emerging as an innovation in smallholder agriculture when Oxfam first engaged. Oxfam began supporting local partners in developing and testing the application of SRI in local contexts before working with partners to design and deliver a scaled-up in Cambodia and Vietnam. a) In terms of internal audiences, OUS wasnt very successful in recruiting support from other affiliates being
most often thwarted by 1) the tendency of Oxfam staff outside the SRI program to accept the message of nay-sayers and subsequently discount the worth of SRI13. So that no common understanding or interest in investment has been established. 2) an inability to develop joint resources and sometimes 3) an inability to reconcile program strategies, on this point OUS was unable to convey SRI as more than a
13 SRI exhibits the characteristics of a disruptive innovation. It challenges norms in this instance input-based agricultural systems and so must be expected to attract challengers.
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technical package or that its true value was in changing systems pertaining to the related development agendas and, 3)
b) In terms of external audiences OUS was successful in recruiting UNDP support. The SRI program ultimately acknowledged by the UN as being in the top three most scalable programs in Cambodia - but joint resource development was unsuccessful and the partnership stalled. In Vietnam, OUS was particularly successful in recruiting government authorities as implementers, direct investors and advocates.
c) Notably, outside of Oxfam, one of the most successful efforts to maintain the momentum of this innovation has been the Cornell University SRI website14 that is actively supported by faculty team actively soliciting and disseminating information.
2.1.2 Saving for Change (SfC) Is an Oxfam-branded version of the savings led microfinance products that has been refined via formal and informal collaboration of several International NGOs. Underpinned by an exceptional evidence base it addresses the