Unlocking Innovation: Enabling and blocking factors in developing innovative programmes in Oxfam GB | Oxfam

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In this rapidly changing world, how can a development and humanitarian NGO like Oxfam GB unlock its people, knowledge, networks, partnerships and resources to achieve greater impact at scale? This report considers examples of innovation in Oxfam GB’s programmes
  OXFAM RESEARCH REPORTS JUNE 2015 UNLOCKING INNOVATION Enabling and blocking factors in developing innovative programmes in Oxfam GB JAMES WHITEHEAD Global Innovation Adviser, Oxfam GB Diagram created with the yFiles diagramming library by yWorks (http://www.yworks.com) This report considers how successful innovation happens in Oxfam GB’s programmes, and provides recommendations on how to foster it. The focus of the research has been initiatives with potential to bring impact at scale and those that might bring systemic change; the initiatives chosen have also frequently enabled Oxfam GB to successfully access funding that it would not have otherwise accessed and work with stakeholders with whom it would not have otherwise worked. It explores the question: how in this rapidly changing world can Oxfam GB unlock the people, knowledge, networks, partnerships and resources it has across the organisation and within the Oxfam global confederation to bring greater impact at scale? www.oxfam.org.uk    INTRODUCTION The aim of this research is to explore positive deviance in innovation in Oxfam GB; that is, uncommon but successful behaviours or strategies that have enabled certain teams to find better solutions to problems. Oxfam faces two interlinked challenges: how to adapt and thrive as an institution, while trying to find new ways to achieve impact at scale even if that means changing its role as an international NGO. Oxfam’s goal as an organisation is not to be innovative per se , but to work with others to bring positive change at scale. The creative, collaborative process of achieving this often leads to new solutions that meet people’s needs and improve their lives. Oxfam therefore sees innovation as a by-product of collaborative, problem-focused resourcefulness. We care about the outcome – because the change in people’s lives is what matters. Given the rate of change in the world, the organisations that are thriving are those that are dedicating an increasing proportion of their energy to developing more radical options that could become mainstream in coming years. We interviewed staff across 13 innovative initiatives that have brought, or have high potential to bring, impact at scale based on a review of a wider set of Oxfam programmes. These initiatives worked with a range of stakeholders, used elements of systems thinking and represented a variety of Oxfam’s work. They range from global campaigns such as ‘Behind the Brands’, to using mobile phones to deliver health messaging and money in Somalia. The researchers undertook semi-structured interviews with key respondents relating to the following initiatives: ã MNutrition:  mobile phone-enabled sharing of information to large numbers of rural communities (focusing on Malawi, Bangladesh and Rwanda) ã Behind the Brands:  influencing the 10 largest global food companies to improve their supply chains ã People's Survival Fund:  establishing a government climate change adaptation fund in the Philippines ã Flood insurance for Bangladeshi farmers:  working with business to provide flood insurance ã Chukua Hatua:  experimental approaches to increasing accountability and improving governance in Tanzania ã MLink Somalia:  supporting poor populations that we could not otherwise reach with vital health information ã Nairobi sanitation project:  providing sustained hygienic sanitation for children in the urban slums of Nairobi ã Voucher-Based Value Programme in Gaza:  linking vouchers for the poorest with increasing economic opportunities in Gaza ã Lanka Social Ventures:  establishing a social enterprise incubator in Sri Lanka ã  Africa Climate Change Resilience Alliance:  capacity building of many stakeholders for systemic improvements in climate change resilience from local to national level ã Ebola Active Case Tracking:  developing more effective approaches as part of the larger Ebola response ã I Care About Her Zambia:  using market insight to shape campaigning on violence against women ã Urban safety nets in Kenya:  working with the government to develop an urban safety net See  Annex  for further details on these initiatives. 2 Unlocking Innovation: Enabling and blocking factors in developing innovative programmes in Oxfam GB  SUMMARY OF KEY FINDINGS 1. The initiatives rarely took a linear path but evolved significantly over time, with false starts and blind alleys along the way. 2. We identified five pivotal roles in enabling innovative initiatives to thrive: Dynamic Driver, Fearless Champion, Amazing Adviser, Motivated Team and Enlightened Senior Leader. 3. Collaboratively minded, empowered leaders are vital at all levels, and successful teams needed to work across boundaries in non-hierarchical ways. 4. The non-linear way in which most of these initiatives evolved necessitates flexible funding in the early stages, proactive donor relationships and reasonable allocation of staff time. 5. Successful initiatives are born out of a mindset that is questioning, open to windows of opportunity and prepared to rapidly iterate and adapt. 6. It is important to work with the right partners and allies, including diverse partners, in a climate of respect and trust. KEY RECOMMENDATIONS 1. Develop methodologies to foster innovation in Oxfam’s project cycle, and ensure relevant and timely financial and advisery support for the design of all new flagship programmes. 2. Allocate resources and create space for identified innovators to explore and trial new initiatives and business models. 3. Move to multi-stakeholder working, and use iconic global programmes to model collaboration and diverse partnership; encourage collaboration with ‘unusual suspects’ across all countries. 4. Develop specific initiatives that create the opportunity for key local actors, such as women’s organisations, to be prime innovators. 5. Significantly increase the amount of time, energy and money that Oxfam GB invests at every level in future-facing work compared with ‘delivering the present’, including programme design, flexible internal funding pots, new business model development and leadership development. Unlocking Innovation: Enabling and blocking factors in developing innovative programmes in Oxfam GB 3   A FRAMEWORK OF CRITICAL SUCCESS FACTORS The generation of innovative programmes in Oxfam GB can appear haphazard, chaotic and uncontrolled. If Oxfam GB is viewed as a simple hierarchical system (see below left), then that will be the case. However, the way in which new initiatives flower in Oxfam GB makes more sense if the organisation is viewed as a complex interconnected system (see below right). Many of the current initiatives and recommendations in this report increase the adaptive capacity of this network and the organisation’s ability to creatively respond to new opportunities and challenges. The role of senior leadership is predominantly to set the broad direction and create the conditions for innovation to flourish. Figure 1: Two mental models of Oxfam Hierarchical mental model of Oxfam Complex mental model of Oxfam Oxfam Rachael Arnott, courtesy of Shutterstock Based on an analysis of the key informant interviews, we identified a number of factors that consistently enabled innovation. Analysis of the data broadly fell into seven areas, all of which were necessary in the creation of innovative programmes. In addition, we found we needed a focus on programme design because it was clear from the data that this is the most critical stage. We have also considered the creation of ‘new business models’ as a separate area because such initiatives require a particular enabling environment to shift mindsets, change ways of working and unlock resources. 4 Unlocking Innovation: Enabling and blocking factors in developing innovative programmes in Oxfam GB
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