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The Innovation Process
All Enabling Factors

Engage with end users and gatekeepers

Our research with ALNAP (Obrecht and Warner, 2016) points to the importance of engaging with users and gatekeepers from an early stage. We define ‘users’ as those who interface directly with an innovation, and ‘gatekeepers’ as those who can significantly influence uptake.

The following table adapted by Ian Gray (2018) from Blank (2006) and Obrecht and Warner (2016) shows various types of users and gatekeepers. Among both groups you might come across potential ‘saboteurs’. These are the people who might stand to lose from your innovation, even if it offers many wider benefits. You need to understand who these people are, and how you might influence them.


Target group: Those who benefit from the innovation. This could include either practitioners and/or crisis-affected populations.
End users: Those who will use an innovation but are not the primary target group the innovation is seeking to benefit. This could include practitioners and/or crisis-affected populations.


Decision makers: Those who ultimately sign off on whether an innovation is taken up. There may be several decision makers, including donors.
Purchasers: Those involved in procurement processes who might purchase a product innovation.
Recommenders: Those whose opinion can ‘make or break’ an innovation being taken up. They can be internal or experts in the sector.
Influencers: Those who have a stake in the innovation being taken up in an organisation.

The two case studies below, taken from the HIF–ALNAP research (Obrecht and Warner, 2016) show how similar projects on information management had to deal with users, gatekeepers and saboteurs.

Humanitarian eXchange Language “aimed to resolve the lack of a common operational picture of humanitarian crises” and involved at least two main types of actor: information management officers (IMOs) and data entry specialists.

While IMOs are the target group for addressing this problem (they are the primary users of a common operational picture), the innovation required behaviour changes from data entry specialists who would be the users of the new technology. As users, and not the target group, therefore they were not initially incentivised to support the innovation, which had the potential for turning them into saboteurs.

Speed Evidence was another information management system developed within the charity World Vision. The innovation ‘came up above the radar’ in the global organisation too quickly. This meant that a key decision-making group, the Global Operations Leadership Team (GOLT) had not been engaged in the innovation, and yet were making decisions on it.

Although there had been strong user-centred design and engagement in the process, by not engaging all the gatekeepers, the project ran into trouble. Key individuals on the GOLT did not believe it was a priority for the organisation, and so when funding ended, the project failed to gain further internal support and resources.

Engage with users

To generate support among users, you should apply ‘user-centred’ and ‘inclusive’ design practices, involving potential users throughout the design process and ensuring that the resulting innovation is based upon their needs.

As we have stated elsewhere in this Guide, you should be working with affected people as much as possible to engage them throughout the innovation process. This is part of taking a user-centred design mindset. Even better, if you can support affected people to create their own solutions and learn from what they are already doing to tackle the problem successfully. Approaches for doing this will be outlined in the Search section of this guide. Taking this type of approach should not be a significant change for organisations that have been using communication with communities, participation and accountability methodologies.

However, there are groups who are particularly vulnerable after a disaster. People living with disabilities, older people, children, pregnant and breastfeeding women all have capabilities like anyone else to provide solutions, but they are also often disproportionately affected by emergencies. They can be inadvertently (such as through damaged infrastructure making places more inaccessible) and deliberately excluded (such as through laws, policies and cultural norms) from receiving humanitarian assistance, or taking part in the design of humanitarian innovations. Humanitarian response itself can also inadvertently increase or magnify vulnerabilities or create additional protection risks.

Innovators must do their utmost to ensure that all vulnerable groups’ needs are recognised, that they have access to the assistance that is being provided and are included/participate in the innovation process as much as possible, using inclusive design techniques.

Generate support from gatekeepers

To generate support among gatekeepers, there are a number of different aspects you need to think about. If you work for a humanitarian agency, one of the strongest indicators of whether you will receive internal support to develop an innovation is whether it is aligned – or even better, supports! – your organisation’s strategy.

You should also ensure that you can provide evidence and a clear rationale for your idea. For this reason, we suggest that you start by making sure you fully understand the problem or opportunity you want to pursue and develop a persuasive Challenge Brief.

If you’ve developed a successful idea and you want others to take it up, or if you need to get new partners on board, you will also need to be aware of the gatekeepers in other organisations and how the decision-making process happens. Critically, you need to work out how gatekeepers and potential saboteurs feel ownership of your innovation and can be shown how it is in their interest that it succeeds (which is not always possible).

All this is difficult enough if you are ‘inside’ the humanitarian sector, but it is even harder if you are not part of the established system (often referred to as ‘non-traditional actors’). If you want to work with affected communities but don’t work for a registered humanitarian organisation or have a licence to operate from local authorities, you will need to work twice as hard to identify the gatekeepers who can facilitate access.

Note: When trying to get your innovation through the gatekeepers of humanitarian action, there needs to be a clear plan for all stages of the innovation cycle. Try the following tools to better understand your gatekeepers, and the power dynamics in play.

For those new to humanitarian action, make sure you read through the Humanitarian Parameters section of this Guide. It provides an overview of how the sector works, and key organisations you need to engage with.

Further resources

Help Age International (2018). Humanitarian inclusion standards for older people and people living with disabilities
[Standards, key actions and practical guidance for including older people and people with disabilities in emergency responses]

Fletcher, H. (2006). The principles of inclusive design, Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment.
[Five key principles at the heart of inclusive design]

Child Protection Working Group (2012). Minimum standards for child protection in humanitarian action
[A set of standards developed to support child protection work in humanitarian settings]

Global Protection Cluster (2015). Guidelines for integrating gender based violence interventions in humanitarian action
[Practical guidance and effective tools to coordinate, plan, implement, monitor and evaluate essential actions for the prevention and mitigation of gender-based violence]

Unicef (no date). Including children with disabilities in humanitarian action
[A set of six booklets full of practical actions and tips]

Communicating with disaster-affected communities (CDAC)
[Tools and resources on communication, listening and engagement with crisi-affected populations]