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The Innovation Process
Activity 2.1 B

Search using informal networks

This activity will guide you in the use of informal methods to uncover information on potential solutions that isn't available through formal channels.

It is unlikely you are facing a problem that has not been faced by others in the humanitarian sector, either within the country where you are working or in similar contexts elsewhere. We suggest two straightforward approaches and provide advice to help you find out about the experiences of others and about potential solutions that might already exist.

Before exploring the activities in this section, it is worth reviewing 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 think through potentially useful people and organisations.

Conferences and events

Although internet searches can generate useful information about solutions, humanitarian organisations are generally not very good at collecting, sharing or disseminating data and information. Typically, they are also reluctant to share reports or stories of failures, even though such knowledge could be extremely valuable. It is therefore useful to find ways to engage directly with organisations and their partners in order to discuss experiences and ideas around particular challenges and solutions.

For humanitarian practitioners it may be easy to pinpoint relevant events and networking opportunities, but for those from outside the sector it can be much more difficult. Each year at global, regional and national levels there are numerous conferences organised by the humanitarian community, as well as regular working groups, seminars and meetings. These events often have a technical focus, but they can also be more general; frequently the topic of innovation is on the agenda.

There is no central listing of humanitarian aid events and groups that are active each year, and there is a lot of geographical variation. It is therefore useful to regularly search the websites of key inter-agency groups and organisations, as well as those of the main humanitarian and development event organisers in order to decide which networking opportunity may be useful to attend in order to gather information. To help out, we’re curating a spreadsheet with some relevant events and sources of information that you can access below.

Coordination mechanisms

Coordination is a key aspect of humanitarian action so it is important to understand how best to engage. At a global level and, where deployed, at a national-level, the Cluster system maintains valuable technical oversight of related products and services and is generally effective in enhancing cooperation to prevent gaps and overlaps. Each Cluster supports new solutions as well as evaluating existing ones.

UN OCHA plays an important role, particularly at a regional level, providing useful links to inter-agency working groups, as well as to sector clusters within the Cluster system. OCHA offices are an important source of advice on networking opportunities, and frequently act as the focal point for engagement with the private sector. OCHA helped establish the Connecting Business Initiative that is transforming the way the private sector engages before, during and after crises.

While each cluster is hosted by a UN agency at global level, several clusters have a separate technical lead agency. For example, WASH is led by UNICEF and technically supported by Oxfam; Shelter is led by UNHCR and technically supported by IFRC. To search for solutions, it is useful to contact technical agencies working at the field level as well as local cluster coordinators.

Increasingly, local-level technical working groups also complement the more formal sector clusters. Such inter-agency or inter-sector groups are also set up in situations where formal clusters are not deployed. For example, cash programme coordination groups are often established during humanitarian operations as this is a cross-cutting function, and national consortia are established to address the needs of local civil society, for example, the Somalia NGO Consortium.

Although not always possible, you can learn first-hand about positive and negative experiences by visiting offices or field sites if you have appropriate connections, approval and authorisation. In general, members of the local humanitarian community will provide advice on what solutions have been tried in response to a particular problem. Take a look at OCHA’s Guide to International Humanitarian Aid Architecture and consider how you might be able to engage the relevant groups.