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The Innovation Process

Glossary of Terms

This jargon-busting glossary is aimed at de-mytifying some the key terms used in humanitarian innovation.

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4 Ps: A model for understanding four broad types of innovation: products/services, processes, positions and paradigms


Accelerator: A fixed-term, cohort-based programme designed to accelerate growth of participating innovations, typically including investment, connections and support.

Adaptation: The process of adapting a solution from elsewhere that requires significant rethinking of certain elements.

Adaptive management: Adaptive management is an approach to working on complex problems or contexts which focuses on acting, sensing and responding (Bond, 2016).

Adoption (see also, Uptake): Where an independent organisation takes on another organisation’s innovation and implements it in a new location.

Agile project management: Agile project management is an approach based on delivering requirements iteratively and incrementally throughout the project life cycle (APM, no date).


Business-as-usual: Continuation of current practice


Core funding: Financial support that covers basic ‘core’ organisational and administrative costs of an organisation, including salaries, facilities, equipment, communications and the direct expenses of day-to-day work.


Design thinking: Design thinking encourages organisations to focus on the people they’re creating for and leads to human-centered products, services and internal processes. Its key elements include empathy, ideation and experimentation (IDEO, no date).

Diffusion (see also, Dissemination): An approach to scale where the innovator creates and publishes resources to enable an independent other to implement the innovation in a new location.

Dissmination: see Diffusion.


End game: A description of how an innovation’s impact might be sustained in the long term (25 years or more), often including a best guess at what an organisation’s operations will need to look like to achieve this.

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

Evidence-based design: A process for (1) identifying relevant information that can be used as evidence for or against a proposed course of action, (2) explicitly applying that knowledge as a resource in the design of potential solutions; and then (3) field testing those with key stakeholders in the real world.




Human-centred design: A creative approach to problem solving…that starts with the people you’re designing for and ends with new solutions that are tailor made to suit their needs (IDEO, no date).


Ideation: The process of generating and developing new ideas.

Incremental innovation: Doing what we do, but better (Bessant, no date)

Innovation: An iterative process that identifies, adjusts and diffuses ideas for improving humanitarian action.

Intermediaries: Actors that provide support services to stakeholders across the sector ranging from business advice, financial investment, service design, market insight, access to networks, personal development, coaching, advocacy, or research.

Invention: The process of creating a solution through the generation of new ideas.








Pilot: Testing a potential solution to learn whether and how it works in a complex real-world environment.

Paradigm innovation: A change in the underlying mental models that govern our approach, eg, encouraging a structural shift towards local manufacture of necessary relief items rather than importing ready-made items, often a key feature of the humanitarian supply chain

Process innovation: A change in how a product or service is created or delivered, eg, developing a user-centred design approach to delivering sanitation services in emergencies.

Product/service innovation: A change to what is offered, eg, developing culturally-appropriate menstrual hygiene management.

Prototype: A prototype is an initial model of an object built to test a design… Prototypes are widely used in design and engineering to perfect items and processes before implementing them on a large scale (Blackwell and Manar, 2015).

Position innovation: A change in how a product or service is targeted and delivered, eg, detection and screening of severe acute malnutrition by mothers/caregivers, rather than community health worker.

Purchasers: Those involved in procurement processes who might purchase a product innovation.




Radical innovation: Doing something completely different to current practice (Bessant, no date).

Recognition: The process of understansing and framing a  specific problem. This stage of the innovation process involves identifying a problem or opportunity to respond to, collecting and assessing readily available knowledge on the issue and context, diagnosing root causes and properly framing the challenge.

Replication: Taking an organisation’s structure, systems and processes; innovation; programme or set of core principles to other geographic areas. Replication can be within or outside an organisation.

Replication rediness: The extent to which an organisation’s structure, systems and processes; or innovation is ready to replicate.


Scalability: The extent to which an innovation has the potential and ability to scale.

Scale: The process of increasing the impact of an innovation to better match the size of the social problem it seeks to address.

Search: Searching for existing solutions to a problem.

Social franchising: Packaging up a proven social innovation and providing carefully selected others with the training and ongoing support they need to implement the innovation to the same standard in a new location.

Sustainability: The extent to which the impact of humanitarian or development work can be continued over the long-term. This definition goes beyond how a programme or service will be funded, but considers the different end games.

Systems thinking: Systems thinking means identifying different component parts of a system and seeking to understand their relationship with each other. Systems-thinking approaches provide helpful frameworks for developing, tailoring, monitoring and evaluating interventions in complex environments.


Target group: The people who will benefit from an innovation. These could include either practitioners and/or crisis-affected populations.


Uptake (see also, Adoption): Where an independent organisation takes on another organisation’s innovation and implements it in a new location.

User-centred design: An approach to developing new innovations and programmes where the end user’s characteristics, environment and need are at the centre of each stage of development.