Nicki Goh: Amplifying Innovation through Collaboration

By Nicki Goh, Private Sector Innovation Adviser, UK Department for International Development

DFID’s Innovation Hub team were faced with a challenge.  How could they bring in new partners to gain fresh perspectives and improved outcomes on tackling poverty whilst enabling true collaboration, end-user involvement and iteration in the innovation process?  To answer this, the team worked with their partners IDEO.org to develop a flagship programme called Amplify.

Amplify is a five-year project, set to tackle 10 poverty-related challenges. It does this by setting a poverty-related question to a 50,000-strong online community already collaborating on the openIDEO.com platform.  IDEO.org use a human-centred approach to design development programmes in collaboration with poor communities, building projects which are built around the behaviour and needs of the user. Their recent work with low-income urban communities in Ghana, supported by Unilever, Water and Sanitation for the Urban Poor (WSUP) and DFID, to improve sanitation options, won a Civil Service Award. A key deciding factor in working with IDEO.org was not just that they brought access to a creative online community, but because they also had a good record of reaching people who rarely access online platforms at all.

The ultimate vision for Amplify is a design process that will be at every stage informed, shaped and challenged by end users who can test and prototype the strongest emerging ideas. The team work through a  four-stage design process, to tackle questions such as ‘how might we make low-income urban areas safer and more empowering for women and girls’, the subject of the programme’s first challenge.

Finding out what users think is a challenge, but there are a number of options the team is trialling to complement the use of the online platform. These options might include using community radio, working directly with local implementing organisations, operating free telephone hotlines and voice recording systems and SMS surveys for users with simple phones. Through these channels, the team is hoping to enable discussion and interaction between innovators the world over and those best placed to determine whether their ideas show potential. However, for each challenge those channels are likely to be determined by the audience the team is trying to reach and the specific communications channels which are technologically appropriate for user communities. For our next challenge - which we recently decided to focus on early childhood development - we will be looking for ways to reach parents and caregivers living in poor countries and are interested to hear from partners who have ideas for products and services that could be tested with those communities.

Our first challenge has just reached stage 3 – a shortlist of the 53 strongest proposals from the 580 ideas submitted is live on openIDEO.com now. One of the proposals was a promising idea focusing on women in Nepal but it lacked detail. So, using the online platform, the group behind it were able to team up with design students from New York University, who helped support it with more research, ideas and focus. One of the ideas is from an Indian NGO with over 15 years’ experience working with young people who live in slums. Another is from a 14 year old boy. Some of the proposals come from people who are talking about problems they want to solve in their own neighbourhoods, who have plans for pilot projects involving just a few streets and families. When the Amplify team went on our initial research trip to gather contacts and insights for the project, a member of a small Indian NGO told us ‘DFID is not interested unless you already work with thousands of people’. That NGO, a women’s only taxi company which trains marginalised women to drive, is now on the shortlist for funding, with their proposal for using innovative ways to franchise and build on their model in more cities.

In the final stage of the process DFID award the strongest ideas not only with funding but also with 14 weeks of design support from IDEO.org. The use of milestone funding and the provision of design support are integral to the team’s aim to help smaller or less experienced organisations to take their ideas forward. However, we are also looking for organisations that are open to new ideas from the global community and willing to help take innovative solutions forward. The team will encourage implementers to prototype and test their ideas within communities and to iterate the solutions before attempting to scale.

Why not be a part of it? Sign up now and add your voice.

You can find out more on the Amplify programme via http://www.ideo.org/amplify and on the first challenge in progress http://www.openideo.com/challenge/womens-safety/refinement.

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