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The Innovation Process
Activity 2.1 C

Search using formal channels

This activity will guide you in the use of formal approaches for finding solutions within your organisation, in other humanitarian organisations, or in other sectors.

Some of the best sources of innovation can come from outside your organisation and outside the humanitarian sector. We suggest four different approaches to explore, including market scanning and matchmaking, and three approaches to tendering and procurement. It is generally good practice to navigate these approaches sequentially, but you may not have to complete them all.

Market scanning and matchmaking

Market scanning and matchmaking services can help you to formulate a list of potential solutions for your problem or match you with possible providers or partners. As with the informal approaches, first review any relevant research carried out in the Recognition stage as well as the Humanitarian Parameters section of this guide (in particular, the briefing on Humanitarian Architecture) to help you develop a list of potentially useful contacts.

Market scanning consists of “searching, filtering and evaluating potential opportunities from outside the organization, including related and emerging technologies, new markets and services, which can be exploited by applying or combining with existing competencies” (Bessant and Tidd, 2007).

There are various ways to do market scanning, and many organisations hire specialist consultants to help, but increasingly online business-to-business (B2B) platforms can be used. These connect importers, exporters, buyers, sellers, suppliers, manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers in one place, and can help you find products and suppliers or manufacturers around the world.

Further inspiration

Response Innovation Lab, Matchmaker
A specialist service for matchmaking humanitarian problems with solutions

Global Innovation Exchange
Global Innovation Exchange (GIE) is a global development technology platform for innovations, funding, and insights

A wider industry search platform that is India’s largest online B2B marketplace, with 60% market share of the online B2B Classified space in India

Technology Exchange Lab
A crowdsourced database with curated, objective information on ready-made products, do-it-yourself guides for local manufacture, and best practices.

Request for solutions

In cases where a solution might not yet exist it can be useful to publish a Request for Solutions (RFS). This is a procurement process which allows suppliers significant flexibility to express their offer. Alternatively, a Request for Expressions of Interest (RFEI) can be used to gather information as part of the discovery process, or a more formal Request for Proposals (RFP) can be used to find technical expertise or specialist capability.

In order to solicit solutions or proposals for the supply of a product or service, draft a request, publish it online and share it through relevant channels. The request should clearly present preliminary requirements for the product or service and may dictate to varying degrees the exact structure and format of the supplier’s response. Potential suppliers are then invited to submit business proposals.

Effective RFSs or RFPs typically reflect the strategy and short or long-term project objectives, providing detailed insight so that suppliers can offer a matching perspective. Use the resources below to learn about procurement processes in emergency environments and how to write an effective request.

Further inspiration

Super Copy Editors, 7 steps to writing an RFP
A quick guide to writing a clear and effective Request for Proposals

Request for Tenders

Once you have determined the potential source/s of the product or service required, to obtain prices and for the purposes of accountability and compliance with donor regulations, you will need to launch a Request for Tenders (RFT), which is a procedure for generating competing offers from different bidders.

Publicly advertised tenders are open to all vendors or contractors who can guarantee performance. Restricted or invited tenders are only open to selected prequalified vendors or contractors. For new innovations, a restricted tender may be appropriate if:

  1. only one suitable supplier of the product or service exists;
  2. there are any confidentiality issues;
  3. there is an urgent requirement;
  4. there is a need to weed our tendered who might not have the financial or technical capabilities to fulfil the requirements.

Work with your team (ideally your procurement office) to consider whether an open or restricted tender is appropriate. Prepare and publish tender documents according to your donor (or investor) guidelines. Note that the most rigorous procurement regulations are those required by the European Commission (DG-ECHO) and USAID so it is a good idea to comply with these as your standard.

Further inspiration

Global Logistics Cluster, Operational Guide to Procurement
A collection of information such as best practices, templates, guidelines and standard operating procedures for logisticians operating in the field

DG ECHO, Rules and Procedures for Procurement in Humanitarian Aid
See p8 for overview of different procurement procedures

Inter-Agency Procurement Group
The IAPG shares knowledge in procurement and the supply chain to maximize the capacity of the aid community

Off-the-shelf procurement

National and international procurement teams within humanitarian organisations spend a significant amount of their time searching for products and services, so staff members are a good source of advice on whether a solution exists or where to look for one. Crucially, they will hold important information on the most appropriate means to find and value a product or service (and how to comply with donor procurement regulations).

There are three important principles of humanitarian procurement:

  1. Transparency: all phases in the procurement process are fair and accurately documented
  2. Accountability: accountability to donors who may require certain rules to be followed
  3. Efficiency and cost effectiveness: meeting the six ‘rights’ of supply, the right price, right time, right quantity, right quality, right delivery to the right place(s), and from the most cost-effective source.

Get in contact with your organisation’s procurement office or if you are independent, try to arrange an introduction with the head of procurement or supply chains in several different organisations to request advice on the solution you are considering. Inter organisational collaboration is an important means of sharing knowledge. Connecting with existing procurement initiatives organised by national or international humanitarian logistics and supply chain groups, such as the Inter Agency Procurement Group and the Logistics Cluster, will also be a good place to start.

To learn more, read the resources below. The Inter-Agency Procurement Group (IAPG) aims to share knowledge in procurement and the supply chain to maximize the capacity of the aid community and is a great place to start. The Logistics Cluster website also hosts supply chain, logistics and procurement information.

Further inspiration

Elrha WASH Innovation Catalogue
A unique overview of some of the most promising new solutions in WASH, designed to help practitioners decide which innovations could help them solve their most pressing problems

The Level Market
An online marketplace for curated preparedness, relief and aid supplies

Oxfam Supply Centre
Oxfam’s equipment catalogue, available to all humanitarian organisations

Unicef Supply Catalogue
Unicef’s online catologue containing specifications for over 2,000 commodities that respond to the needs of children and their families