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The Innovation Process
Stage 5


Develop and test your solution in humanitarian settings

The objective of the Pilot stage is to learn whether, and how, your innovation works in the real world, moving from controlled design and testing environments into complex humanitarian settings.

In contrast to previous stages in the innovation journey, the Pilot stage is considerably more complex, challenging and high-risk. It requires a thorough understanding of the operational environment, cooperation and integration with a number of other actors, and considerable resourcing for further monitoring, iteration and research.

A successful pilot will provide evidence that the innovation had demonstrable impact and, ideally, that it offers a comparative improvement in terms of effectiveness, efficiency and/or quality over existing approaches. It will also generate new learning on what works, what doesn’t and why. However, these are not easy questions to answer and in most cases you may need to run a number of pilot tests over a period of months, or even years, to generate sufficiently robust evidence.

In order to achieve your learning objectives, and ensure an accountable, responsible and effective process, you will need to work across two key workstreams:

  1. Research and Learning: The pilot must include a process for generating the knowledge needed to make decisions on whether or not the innovation is working
  2. Project Management: The pilot must be well implemented, able to change direction easily if learning suggests this is necessary, and it should consider sustainability and scalability

It is important to note that these two workstreams should not be considered individually; they are intended to reinforce and support each other. Research and Learning is reliant on a well-managed project; likewise, Project Management is dependent on the generation and integration of evidence.

The Research and Learning workstream will help you to generate and integrate evidence, and to determine the outcomes and impact of your pilot. While monitoring and evaluation approaches are vital components of the innovators’ toolkit, we encourage you to think about learning in terms of a broad research agenda that allows for a comprehensive approach to evidence generation.

The Response Innovation Labs’ (RIL) Evidencing Humanitarian Innovation toolkit is a new resource designed to enable innovators to monitor and evaluate the innovations they are implementing for the best possible success in low-resource environments. This toolkit builds on prior work on monitoring and evaluating humanitarian innovation by Elrha and ALNAP.

Although the stages of the innovation process are often blurred, the Pilot stage is defined by the application of a clear set of learning objectives to an intervention carried out in its planned-for context.

As you move through the Pilot stage, you will probably carry out a number of interventions, and you will also need to go through multiple cycles of research reviewing this guidance and planning a new approach before each cycle. You might start with a small set of questions and relatively simple methodology that can be delivered on a limited budget, and hopefully build up towards a full set of research questions and a robust methodology, requiring significant resources.

The Project Management workstream will help you to establish your project design and feedback and review mechanisms, to learn in real-time, to iterate designs and to change direction – or ‘pivot’ – when required. We provide a mix of activities and guidance to help you navigate the decisions you need to make, when you need to make them, and how you can approach them. There are a few relatively simple monitoring and iteration tools in the Project Management workstream, but we strongly recommend that these are supplemented by a robust Research and Learning workstream.

Lastly, the humanitarian sector has identified a clear need to move beyond the plethora of successful early-stage innovations and develop ways to systemically enable innovation at scale (Elrha, 2018). Activites in the Project Management workstream focused on testing your business model and codifying your solution will help you to establish the foundations for scale, if your pilot is a success.


5.1 Preparations for Pilot
This starter resource will help you lay the foundations for a successful pilot and think through necessary ethical considerations.
5.2 Research and Learning
The activities in this module will help you design a robust research agenda and facilitate a process of continuous learning and discovery, generating evidence to inform decision making.
5.3 Project Management
The activities in this module will help you plan your intervention, put in place mechanisms to enable regular feedback, learn in real-time, review key findings, and make changes when required.
5.3 Progress Review
The activities in this module will help you review your progress and assess what you've learned as a group, and make a decision on your route forward.