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Executive summary

Over the past two decades, levels of interest and investments in realising the potential of innovation in international development and humanitarian work have grown considerably. Investments in novel approaches and technologies, from vaccines to malnutrition treatments to mobile banking, have transformed the lives of poor and vulnerable people. There are new methods and tools, new teams and departments, new collaborations and partnerships, and new principles and ways of working. There is also a growing realisation that the sector needs to do more than just ask for innovation: it needs to roll up its sleeves and start doing innovation.

This report synthesises the ideas and lessons that have emerged from a peer learning exercise on innovation for development to better understand what needs to be done differently to achieve the 2030 Agenda. It provides recommendations for donors as well as for the wider sector who are interested in ensuring that innovation benefits poor and vulnerable people around the world.

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Key findings

The innovation efforts of Development Assistance Committee (DAC) members have a number of strengths:

  1. 1. Many transformative development and humanitarian efforts have already drawn on innovation approaches and thinking – from cash to microfinance to new vaccines.

  2. 2. Among the most advanced members, the innovation approach is becoming more structured, systematic and goal driven, especially at programme and project levels.

  3. 3. Pockets of staff and teams feel empowered to take on board novel approaches, practices and ideas, and the language and concepts of innovation are becoming more widespread.

  4. 4. Many joint efforts are underway to strengthen innovation for development as a global public good, and the International Development Innovation Alliance (IDIA) network brings together many of the major players across the aid landscape for networking and shared learning.

There are also a number of opportunities for improvement:

  1. 1. Greater clarity is needed on the goals and ambitions of innovation for development at both institutional and sector-wide levels: what is innovation for, how will it work and why is it important?

  2. 2. Gaps – in strategy, governance, management, co-ordination and process – should be addressed to strengthen internal coherence, institutional longevity, collective learning, and the external impact and sustainability of the innovation agenda.

  3. 3. Organisational arrangements need strengthening – to improve signals, requirements and agreements between different internal teams and units pushing for similar institutional transformations.

  4. 4. More active efforts are needed in evidence and learning, risk management, portfolio learning and management, and scaling, some of which are already underway.

  5. 5. The lack of genuine and sustained engagement with the global South is a widespread problem, and should be addressed directly and collectively to ensure that innovation efforts are more relevant, appropriate and build on the best ideas from around the world.

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Key recommendations

Individual DAC members should consider the following recommendations within their organisations:

  • Define a shared vision and strategy for innovation more clearly and explicitly.

  • Set out clear incentives and drivers for innovation, with clear entry points for all staff.

  • Make innovation the focus of explicit organisational change campaigns.

  • Improve governance of innovation at senior management level.

  • Develop more coherent and courageous narratives about innovation risk.

  • Consider the role of existing partners, as well as actors in and from the global South.

  • Invest in innovation skills for new and existing staff members at different levels.

  • Ensure stronger and more systematic reflection, evidence, documentation, data and communication.

  • Make inclusion of end users and Southern actors a key criterion for assessments.

  • Build stronger processes for integrating innovation into mainstream development and humanitarian programming.

  • Invest in co-creation processes with new and existing partners in relation to complex intractable challenges.

The DAC membership as a whole could consider the following recommendations, in collaboration with existing networks, including the IDIA:

  • Work to establish a champions group of senior leaders on innovation for development.

  • Provide a standing “hub” or platform to join up, co-ordinate and shape innovation activities across the DAC membership and the wider development sector.

  • Develop a shared global narrative/statement on innovation in development and humanitarian work.

  • Explore the potential for DAC-wide approaches to tracking and learning from innovation efforts.

  • Work to bring actors from the global South into a more central role in the innovation for development ecosystem.

  • Work in close collaboration and partnership with key innovation players and networks, externally and internally.

  • Facilitate joint efforts across DAC members on radical, anticipatory and transformative innovation.

  • Invest in enhanced monitoring, evaluation and learning for innovation efforts.

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Infographic 1. Lessons from the OECD Development Assistance Committee
Infographic 1. Lessons from the OECD Development Assistance Committee
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