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The Innovation Process
Activity 1.1 F

Break the dominant logic

The exercise in this activity aims to assess and reconsider the dominant logic of why certain activities and factors are considered important in the sector.

Many opportunities arise from looking to do something differently from others in the sector. In every type of sector and field, dominant logic – how things are generally understood to work – becomes more and more engrained into how people working in that sector view their work.

This activity is intended to produce high-level insights and encourage exploration, and is low-risk, low-resource to carry out. It is best done in a group, including some people with a deep knowledge of the sector and others who are new, or not part of the sector at all. It is intended for potential innovators (novice or experienced) who are trying to improve upon existing solutions/strategies, etc.

Things to consider

  • Ensure that you understand the difference between innovation funding, that is likely to be non-recurring and more flexible, and ‘normal’ humanitarian grants and contracts, that are likely to be less flexible and tied to a sector, but are also a potential long-term revenue stream.
  • The humanitarian architecture is not homogeneous. Consider whether rules constrain some types of actors more than others, or whether there are areas in which agencies ‘compete’ and in which you might be able to innovate, such as ‘value for money’.
  • Consider the specific factors about the context/s you are looking at that might generate problems or opportunities, eg, whether most aid is delivered ‘remotely’ through local partners.

Blue Ocean Strategy Canvas


The Blue Ocean Strategy Canvas is a tool designed for groups to identify what the dominant logic in their industry or sector is (the ‘way things are done’), and then think through how they could challenge this.

It has been said that despite changes in the operating environment, the structure of the humanitarian system has remained essentially closed and unchanged (Betts and Bloom, 2014). This tool is helpful for understanding this, and for developing new insights into possible opportunities.

Using the tool will require you to put on a ‘competitors’ mindset and think through what factors you are ‘competing’ on – Why should your innovation get funding or donations, rather than the current way of doing things?

If you feel uncomfortable about this, bear in mind if you do find an innovative breakthrough, you don’t have to use it to your advantage alone – you can share it with the wider sector!

Get in a group, draw out the graph on a flipchart, read through the tips in the guide, and map out your competing factors along the horizontal axis.

An example of a competing factor from the humanitarian sector is the need for a strong supply chain. Running a supply chain is costly…

  • … what if you could reduce that cost (a Blue Ocean Strategy move) by using someone else’s supply chain and paying them a small service fee?
  • … what if you could eliminate your supply chain completely (another Blue Ocean Strategy move) by starting to use local manufacturing techniques?

The vertical axis of the strategy canvas shows the level of offering. This is a measure of the ‘amount’ of each factor that you offer (using a score of 1 to 10 means that you have a nominal value that works across multiple types of factors). A high score on the vertical axis means that you are offering more of this, and a low score means that you are offering less of this.

The idea is to map where the dominant humanitarian sector logic is (ie, where the average humanitarian assistance organisation is against each factor). You can also then map out what is important to other actors in the humanitarian system (eg, donors) and what is important to crisis-affected populations. For each of the factors you can then ask a number of questions. For example:

  • Is this something that could be reduced? (eg, because it actually doesn’t improve impact on communities and is costly
  • Is this something that should be increased? (eg, amplifying efforts on accountability as it will improve impact)
  • Is it something that can be eliminated completely? (e.g. if we made locally, or ‘piggybacked’ on a major logistics company’s capacity, we wouldn’t need a strong international supply chain)
  • Is there some new value that we can create that others aren’t doing? (eg, providing end-to-end transparency using blockchain)