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5. Next steps for Development Assistance Committee members


Although the development community has an established track record for innovating partnerships, funding instruments and technologies, they are not enough to deliver the Sustainable Development Goals. This chapter, organised around building blocks for innovation capabilities, provides recommendations on how innovation can best benefit poor and vulnerable people around the world for DAC members individually as well as collectively.


As set out in the introduction, innovation is of growing importance in development and humanitarian work. Numerous innovations have already had transformative effects on the lives of poor and vulnerable people around the world. The peer learning exercise (PLE) has identified promising efforts underway across the case study countries and among the OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC) membership as a whole.

At its best, the innovation work DAC donors have led and supported involves the fusion of new technologies and technical advances with new business models and organisational approaches, and efforts to reform and transform institutions, norms and political contexts. It is through precisely such systemic efforts that we have seen the emergence and scaling of successful innovations such as new disease treatments, mobile financial services, and approaches to nutrition and resilience. Done poorly – which typically means an overt focus on technology, with insufficient attention to organisational and institutional contexts – innovation is not just ineffective, but can be harmful.

It is clear from the PLE that innovation for development is of growing importance to DAC members, individually and collectively. But to realise the broader ambitions of the innovation agenda, the DAC membership needs to build on the good work already underway to actively and sustainably encourage, incentivise and manage innovation efforts. This means supporting innovation not as a hoped-for result or another new sector of work, but as a centrally important and cross-cutting strategic capability; and harnessing this capability courageously and systematically in pursuit of the most pressing and complex development and humanitarian goals.

In this context, DAC members’ collective innovation has a number of strengths:

  • many transformative development and humanitarian efforts have already drawn on innovation approaches and thinking – from cash to microfinance to new vaccines

  • among the most advanced members, the innovation approach is becoming more structured, systematic and goal-driven, especially at programme and project levels

  • pockets of staff and teams across all of the case study countries, and more widely, feel empowered to take on board novel approaches, practices and ideas, and the language and concepts of innovation are becoming more widespread

  • many joint efforts are underway across DAC members 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 many opportunities for improvement:

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

  • 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.

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

  • There is a need for more active efforts in evidence and learning, risk management, portfolio learning and management, and scaling, some of which are already underway.

  • 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.

The recommendations set out below provide a means for the DAC membership to build on their strengths and capitalise on these opportunities. Structured using the innovation capabilities framework (Figure 1.2) and the stages of strategic development (Table 2.1), these recommendations are presented with the aim of strengthening the innovation for development agenda, individually as well collectively, across DAC members in the form of a future agenda for an innovation workstream.

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Table 5.1. Where are you in your innovation journey?

A: I am an emerging experimenter – You are a DAC member whose innovation work is relatively recent and small scale, linked to a specific programme or initiative such as health or job creation. Innovation is not yet the responsibility of a dedicated staff member, but might be part of a specific role.

B: I am a fast developer – You are a DAC member who has invested in a number of innovation programmes and made initial investments in innovation capacity. You have key individuals working to advise and support learning and networking, but are at a relatively early stage of institutional implementation and roll-out.

C: I am an established integrator – You are a DAC member who has a dedicated, recognised team and capability for innovation, and some form of strategic or policy framework, as well as a portfolio of investments in different areas.

D: I am a collaborative learner – You fit into one of the groups above and are especially keen to exploit the potential benefits of a collaborative and open approach to innovation across the DAC membership, and with the OECD Secretariat, building on the peer leaning experience.

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A: I work for an emerging experimenter. What should I be considering?

Strategy, management and culture

  1. 1. Map out existing innovation work across the overall current portfolio of the organisation, including any thematic or geographic focus areas, and assess capabilities using the OECD self-assessment tool.

  2. 2. Assess both needs for innovation across partners and end users (external) and areas of technical potential (internal), and use the findings to develop a set of initial innovation priorities.

  3. 3. Explore the potential to deliver on these priorities by supporting both stand-alone and integrated innovation activities across the existing portfolio, as well as possible cross-DAC partnerships.

Organisation and collaboration for innovation

  1. 4. Identify a network of interested senior leaders and staff, and set up an innovation strategy event to facilitate dialogue on findings from the steps above; identify next steps and develop a roadmap for future work that includes roles and responsibilities.

  2. 5. Identify partners and mentors in learning from across the DAC and IDIA who can contribute to or partner on the prioritised next steps.

The innovation process

  1. 6. Work to pilot end-to-end evidence-based innovation management processes in high-priority areas of work.

  2. 7. Ensure innovation processes are inclusive of end users and Southern actors by default.

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B and C: I work for a fast developer or an established integrator. What should I be considering?

Strategy, management and culture

  1. 1. Define a shared vision and strategy for innovation more clearly, setting out the what, who and how of innovation, with particular attention to the role of Southern actors and end users.

  2. 2. Set out clear incentives and drivers for innovation: be clear about the signals and requirements for innovation, and suggested entry points for staff and teams at different levels, functions and locations.

  3. 3. Work towards greater integration across innovation-related efforts, with greater and more lesson learning across sectors.

  4. 4. Make innovation the focus of an explicit organisational change campaign: look at all key processes in terms of how they enable or inhibit innovation and make adjustments, and join up efforts across dedicated innovation staff and other internal agents of change.

  5. 5. Build and support networks of internal innovation champions – at senior management and country levels, within technical or country groups, and among support and operational staff.

Organisation and collaboration for innovation

  1. 6. Make conscious use of innovation portfolio approaches to identify lessons, share experiences and track progress.

  2. 7. Improve governance of innovation at senior management level, to ensure a high-level overview of and deliberation on the overall innovation portfolio – clearly signal the level of ambition and appetite for risk to the organisation.

  3. 8. Develop more coherent and courageous narratives about innovation risk and acceptability, and the different kinds of risk that can be alternately embraced, tolerated and minimised in innovation processes.

  4. 9. Consider the role of existing partners in developing and rolling out new ideas and approaches.

  5. 10. Actively seek to engage actors in and from the global South throughout the lifecycle of innovation processes and programmes.

The innovation process

  1. 11. Invest in innovation skills for new and existing staff members at different levels: focus on innovation management for general staff, and innovation technical advisory capacities of dedicated innovation staff.

  2. 12. Ensure stronger and more systematic reflection, evidence, documentation, data and communication of lessons across innovation processes, within specific programmes and across innovation portfolios as a whole, and make inclusion of end users and Southern actors a key criterion for assessments.

  3. 13. Build stronger processes and mechanisms for integrating outcomes of successful innovation efforts with mainstream programming efforts.

  4. 14. Invest in co-creation efforts in relation to complex intractable challenges; in particular, place greater emphasis on country-level programming efforts in innovation as a means of bringing in promising innovations and innovators from the global South.

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D: I want to engage more across the DAC membership and with the OECD Secretariat. What should I be considering?

The suggestions below are made based on the assumption that DAC members and the OECD Secretariat will be working in close collaboration with and as part of existing cross-organisational networks on innovation, including the IDIA.

Strategy, management and culture

  1. 1. Work to establish a champions group of senior leaders on innovation for development, bringing together heads of DAC members to advocate for more and better innovation processes and outcomes.

  2. 2. Provide a standing hub or platform to join up, co-ordinate and shape innovation activities at the strategic level across the development sector as a whole, paying particular attention to the innovation gap the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and humanitarian resources face, anticipatory and transformative innovation, ongoing work on research for innovation, and cross-organisational capacity-strengthening efforts.

  3. 3. Develop a shared global narrative or statement on innovation in development and humanitarian work: what it is, why it matters, and how best to enable and support it.

Organisation and collaboration for innovation

  1. 4. Explore the potential for collective approaches to tracking and learning from innovation efforts, building on the ongoing DAC innovation marker work and emerging efforts in portfolio-wide learning.

  2. 5. Work to bring actors from the global South – from national governments to the private sector, civil society and poor communities – into a more central role in the innovation for development ecosystem; actively bridge gaps between innovation efforts in the global North and South.

  3. 6. Work in close collaboration and partnership with key innovation players externally and internally, including the IDIA; Global Innovation Exchange; the OECD Observatory of Public Sector Innovation (OPSI); and the OECD Directorate for Science, Technology and Innovation, to ensure the benefits of collective action are realised and duplication avoided.

The innovation process

  1. 7. Facilitate efforts across DAC members to establish and accelerate shared work on development challenges that demand radically new, anticipatory and transformative innovation.

  2. 8. Invest in enhanced monitoring, evaluation and learning for innovation efforts in collaboration with the DAC Network on Development Evaluation and the Results Community and within the DAC Peer Review process.

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