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A training session as part of DMS-Himalaya. Credit: Pragya

Last week we convened a panel discussion for the launch of the latest learning paper in our scaling series. How to Scale: Tactics to Enable the Adoption of Humanitarian Innovations, is the third report in the series, and presents a range of ways in which innovation teams can implement the conditions needed to enable adoption via six core tactics. Chaired by our Innovation Manager Ian Brightwell, the webinar hosted four speakers from across the sector to discuss their own perspectives on the paper. The panellists were:

Syed Imran Ali: PhD, Research Fellow, Dahdaleh Institute for Global Health Research
Emma Proud: Head of Learning and Adapting, Brink
Gargi Banerji: Founder-Director, Pragya
Tom Heath: WASH Technical Advisor, Action Against Hunger (ACF)

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Learning from Experience

Syed Imran Ali kicked off proceedings with an introduction to the key ideas put across in the paper. Imran, who also supplied the foreword to the paper, is our partner and grantee, working to develop the Safe Water Optimisation Tool. In his introduction, Imran highlighted the importance of the study in offering clear and actionable guidance on adoption for both innovation teams and humanitarian organisations. He explained that too often proof-of-concept innovations struggle to pass the pilot phase due to obstacles on both the side of the innovator and at a systems level. This is something the report never loses sight of, providing a challenge for donors, adopters and actors throughout the humanitarian community.

Imran pointed out further that, beyond the tactics, one of the most useful facets of the report is the chance to learn from other innovation teams who have successfully scaled via adoption in the form of five in-depth case studies. Each team had used a combination of the six tactics, offering examples of how each approach could be implemented in real-world scenarios. He was careful to note that while these tactics could not guarantee successful adoption, “These are the ingredients that have been found to work well together in the recipes of innovations that have been successfully adopted. Each unique innovation is going to need a different mix of these ingredients to suit its own situation. But where things are going right, these are the ingredients that are consistently present.”

From Novelty to Normal

The next panellist to offer their expertise was Emma Proud, Head of Learning and Adapting at Brink. Emma has recently co-authored an article on behavioural approaches to innovation adoption and was able to share some wisdom from the research her team at Brink had produced with the OECD.

Emma explained that, similar to tactic 5 (work with the entire adopter), the ultimate end goal for any team hoping to get their innovation adopted, is to have that innovation become core to the adopting organisation. In many cases, innovations may be utilised by several teams throughout a company but not have the widespread use of a core function. She notes that novelty is both a blessing and a curse for innovators in this regard, because while new technologies can be alluring to decision-makers, the appearance of the next new thing can mean a loss of focus, development and investment for ‘older’ innovations.

Six core tactics to drive adoption of humanitarian innovations
Sudanese refugees collecting chlorinated water supply at the Batil refugee camp, South Sudan, 2013. Credit: Syed Imran Ali

Tactics in Action

“The case studies provide an invaluable blueprint for others who want to do the same ” – Syed Imran Ali

Two of the panellists were part of innovation teams featured in the case studies in the report. Both gave unique insights into how combinations of the six tactics could be applied in a humanitarian context.

Gargi Banerji, founder-director of Pragya, discussed how the team behind DMS-Himalaya used a mix of tactics 1, 3 and 6. For tactic 1 (determine your long-term role), Gargie explained how Pragya positioned themselves as insider-partners embedded within last mile communities, bringing in local people as co-creators to adapt training and processes to the needs of the community. Tactic 3 (build on what already exists) saw the team acting as catalyst and facilitator to integrate DMS-Himalaya into an existing disaster management structure that involved stakeholders at governmental as well as community level. Another area where Pragya were able to improve their adoption efforts was through tactic 6 (move beyond innovation grants). One of the ways in which they did was by piggybacking on their own climate change programme, stressing the correlation between climate change and the increased instances and worsening impact of natural disasters. Through this they were able to source funding from a diverse range of donors.

Tom Heath, technical advisor for Wash’Em, underscored the importance of tactic 2 (use your network), explaining how Wash’Em used social media, newsletters, conferences and webinars to generate interest and recognition in the project across both academic and non-academic audiences. Adoption efforts also relied heavily on tactic 4 (make it easy to integrate), with Wash’Em advisors adapting the innovation to suit the needs of users in all parts of an organisation through translation and remote training options. Tom also highlighted the prolonged difficulties of large-scale adoption even after many years as a proof-of-concept innovation. He echoed Emma Proud’s earlier point that the aim of adoption should be to have the innovation become common practice for organisations.

How to Scale: Tactics to enable the adoption of humanitarian innovations

Discover more about how to enable innovation adoption by reading our full report...

Read the Report

Read More from Our Scaling Series

Humanitarian procurement: challenges and opportunities in the adoption of WASH production innovations 

This paper focuses on the demand side for product innovations and the connection between supply and demand, namely procurement. It is based on a review of humanitarian agencies’ catalogues, databases and process documents, supplemented by 31 interviews with humanitarian WASH practitioners, innovators, third party suppliers and manufacturers. 

Read more about this paper.

Impact evidence and beyond: Using evidence to drive adoption of humanitarian innovations 

Innovation literature and practice show time and time again that it is difficult to scale innovations. Even when an innovation is demonstrably impactful, better than the existing solution and good value for money, it does not automatically get adopted or used in mainstream humanitarian programming. This learning paper provides guidance to humanitarian innovators on how to use evidence to enable and drive adoption of innovation. 

Read more about this paper.

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