Define your problem and map out the challenge
Recognition should be the first stage of any innovation journey. It broadly consists of 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.
Gaining a deep and insightful understanding of the problem is the key to any successful innovation. The more time spent on understanding the problem, the less the likelihood of developing an inappropriate solution. This stage consists of four modules and results in the creation of your Challenge Brief.
“Clear problem definition is at the heart of successful innovation, through all stages. Focus on identifying, articulating and meeting needs, monitoring progress and changing course accordingly. Failed innovations are often associated with a lack of focus at the start, or conversely a failure to adapt as evidence and learning suggests a need to change the approach.”
HIF Principles of Humanitarian Innovation
Follow our user stories
To help us to explain the stages of the innovation process, and what both social entrepreneurs and humanitarian practitioners might need to know, we will follow two humanitarian innovators on their journey as we move through the Guide.
We have deliberately exaggerated some of the mindsets of ‘Sergio’ and ‘Hanna’, our two protagonists, for effect – not to reinforce stereotypes, but to enable us to explore some vital lessons. We hope that Sergio and Hanna serve to highlight some of the potential pitfalls you might fall into at each stage of the innovation process.
Hanna is a seasoned humanitarian worker. She has worked in five humanitarian emergencies over the past nine years. She is currently responsible for her organisation’s refugee response programme, in both camp and urban settings.
A conflict has broken out in a country neighbouring Elrharia, where Hanna is based. A large number of refugees are crossing the border and a new camp has been established, with periodic spikes in conflict and unrest increasing the flow of new arrivals. Hanna is tired of seeing the same mistakes made that she has seen in previous responses and wants to find a way to do things differently.
What traps might Hanna fall into?
- Thinking the problems are too complex and intertwined to be fixed with a simple solution.
- Being constrained in her thinking by the way ‘things are done’ in the humanitarian sector.
- Thinking that innovation is only about products and can’t fix systemic problems.
- Dismissing or mistrusting ideas that haven’t been ‘proven’ in a humanitarian context, or come from someone perceived as lacking in experience.
- Viewing any organisation from outside NGOs, the UN or Red Cross/Crescent movement, or without detailed humanitarian technical expertise, as suspicious and unable to grasp the complexities of the sector.