The context for a new design-driven innovation ecosystem
Today, the global development landscape is facing unprecedented change. Climate change, conflict, urbanisation, automation, artificial intelligence, and environmental degradation are all having a massive impact on the complexity of the challenges communities face.
This is the context in which AKF’s over 4,000 staff are currently working, and whilst inclusivity and co-creation of solutions has always been a central tenet of AKF’s approach, this raft of new challenges has highlighted the need for new and creative approaches that deliver greater value and impact – at scale.
This rationale has underpinned the development of Accelerate Impact. Through this new initiative, AKF not only formalises its inclusive approach, but also applies design-driven innovation to its programmes, ensuring creative collaboration across the organisation, the ability to scale local solutions where applicable, and deliver even greater impact to the communities it serves.
“We need local solutions that can scale to answer global questions.”
Global Lead for Innovation, AKF
Led by AKF’s Global Lead for Innovation, Munir Ahmad, Accelerate Impact was launched with a mission to equip AKF staff, partners and communities with the competencies, mindsets and resources to create impactful next-generation solutions, systems and strategies. By giving everyone the power to put their creative ideas into action and working with communities to co-create solutions that are relevant to them, AKF hopes to to create a vibrant collaborative innovation ecosystem across the entire organisation that will nurture creative problem-solvers. In this way, AKF aims to significantly increase the measurable value, impact and scale of its interventions.
Human-Centred Design – a strategy for innovation
Mature organisations are designed for control and predictability. Yet innovation requires embracing ambiguity and tolerating risks. Moreover, social impact is a complex domain that requires collaboration between diverse stakeholders.
Design methodologies, such as Human-Centred Design (HCD), offer a structured process that can help to reduce this discomfort, ease navigating such complexity, and create the necessary creative confidence so that better and more impactful solutions can emerge from bringing local stakeholders and communities together to be part of the solution.
In recent years, leading players in the field of design – IDEO, Stanford d.school, MIT, and others – have introduced a number of new design tools and methods that are increasingly being applied in the field of development. They have demonstrated that it is absolutely critical for organisations to have a deliberate, clear and structured innovation process to ensure that innovation ‘happens’ effectively and systematically.
HCD is one such framework that can drive collaboration that cuts across organisational and sectoral boundaries as well as ensure a systematic approach to innovation. This ‘human’ approach to problem solving incorporates insights about human needs and behaviour into project design and delivery, thus increasing impact through empathy. It is both a mindset and a framework for creative problem-solving.
AKF has always empowered communities to participate in the design of solutions to their own problems. Now, informed by these global methodologies, as well as surveys and research conducted with staff, Accelerate Impact aims to offer a new strategy to incorporate design methodologies and innovative problem-solving approaches – such as HCD – to enable internal teams, local partners and communities to design more impactful programmes. This includes setting up internal programmes and systems, and external partnerships to address not only the needs and concerns of AKF staff but also to accelerate AKF’s leadership in social innovation.
How does Accelerate Impact work?
Currently Accelerate Impact is being embedded into AKF systems at an organisational level through:
- Identifying and nurturing ‘Innovation Champions’, who are rigorously trained in HCD methodology, to strengthen programme design and promote innovation in-country;
- HCD workshops, bootcamps and learning experiences for staff and partners;
- Blended Learning Courses to share resources with development practitioners and other stakeholders;
- Innovation toolkits to support implementing the HCD process during programme development;
- Communities of practice to strengthen relationships and encourage peer-learning;
- Strategic funding to support programme innovation;
- Community-driven innovation through flagship programmes such as Local Impact and Schools2030.
Spotlights – Accelerate Impact in current AKF programmes
There is, of course, much work to be done to truly embed a culture that nurtures social innovation into a large and mature organisation like AKF, but progress is underway. As part of its remit, Accelerate Impact will monitor and evaluate its progress both organisationally and through the impact of its programmes. We look forward to updating you in the near future.
To find out more and keep up to date with the work of Accelerate Impact, please follow its page on Medium.