10 ways to drive development innovation

Saving our planet, lifting people out of poverty, advancing economic growth… these are one and the same fight. We must connect the dots between climate change, water scarcity, energy shortages, global health, food security and women’s empowerment. Solutions to one problem must be solutions for all. – UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

2015 was an important turning point for international development, with the adoption of the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (referred to as “the 2030 Agenda” or the Sustainable Development Goals, SDGs), the Addis Ababa Action Agenda of the Third International Conference on Financing for Development, and the historic Paris Agreement on climate change which promotes ambitious action by all countries towards a low-emissions and climate-resilient global economy.

And, it was an important turning point for Canada with respect to its own international development policies and practice, with a new government and a renewed commitment to regain and advance Canada’s reputation as a world leader on key development priorities.

To that end, between May and July 2016, the Government of Canada sought input through its International Assistance Review (IAR) on six pillars of development, designed to refocus Canada’s international assistance on helping the poorest and most vulnerable and supporting fragile states, and to ensure that Canada’s assistance priorities are aligned with the 2030 Agenda and able to respond most effectively to the challenges and opportunities of the new global context.

CFTC has been an active participant in the IAR process, including participating in a variety of consultations in Canada and in our countries of operation since May 2016. As the IAR wraps up at the end of July, 2016, we’ve been among the many civil society organizations and individuals who have submitted our thoughts to GAC.

Based on discussion with other NGOs and development networks, we focused on IAR pillar #6: Delivering Results: Improving Effectiveness and Transparency, Innovation, and Partnerships. Global Affairs Canada specifically sought input on how it can “pursue technical cooperation, partnerships and program investments so that Canada’s “tool-kit” for international assistance is agile, ambitious and best positioned to meet 21st-century challenges.”

We are condemned to innovate. / Nous sommes condamnés à innover.
– Marie-Claude Bibeau, Minister of International Development & La Francophonie, Global Affairs Canada Consultation Session with CCIC and CAIDP, May 13, 2016

How can Canada foster development innovation?

We urged GAC to support its Innovation Agenda by committing funding, and by building processes and methodologies that incent and escalate innovation directly within the funding process and suggested ten ways the Government of Canada could help drive development innovation:

1. Define innovation broadly and recognize that it is ‘messy.’ Innovation means different things to different people. Innovations are not only new ways of doing things and new technologies, but often simple, community-led solutions that have been in place, tested, and can be scaled. Without being ‘high-tech’ or ‘high-investment’, they can provide the lift that is needed to unleash people’s own potential to innovate in ways that are meaningful and practical for them, as this clever video, Welcome to Bulambuli Valley (9367 miles away from Silicon Valley), by UK-based Communities for Development, illustrates. Innovation, like development itself, is best led by communities, and best understood as an organic process.

2. Create space for testing and experimentation as part of larger funded projects, or through independent funding (e.g., an “Innovation Fund”) for pilot projects, experimental approaches, unique partnerships or other innovative development practices.

3. Build funding strategies and methods to bring pilot projects to scale through additional resources and commitment.

4. Increase risk tolerance with concurrent commitment of funds and resources for risk mitigation. Increase openness to risk and tolerance for (and examination of) failure.

5. Incent unique partnerships and collaboration, especially for partnerships that create “innovation added-value”: e.g., bring opportunities for implementation, scale/reach, experimentation, research, or other elements that serve the innovation agenda.

6. Increase responsiveness, efficiency and speed within project implementation and reporting cycles, to enable “fast-fail, fast-learn” through rapid evidence gathering, streamlined reporting, and time for course correction.

7. Extend project timelines to facilitate scale-up and implementation of learnings and to recognize that scaling up innovations requires long-term commitment. Rapid iteration of hypothesis – testing – analysis – continuous improvement within longer time frames is essential to create change in a high-change global environment.

8. Fund monitoring and evaluation as a distinct activity, to ensure pilot and experimental projects have rigorous, evidence-based platform for scalability and sustainability.

9. Focus on extracting and applying learnings by resourcing and funding multi-stakeholder learning at multiple points in project planning, implementation and follow-up.

10. Create a platform for sharing and exchange of project learnings, best practices and ideas by deepening relationships with Canadian professional development networks (e.g., Food Security Policy Group (FSPG), Canadian Coalition on Climate Change and Development (C4D), Humanitarian Response Network, others) and a broader range of CSOs.