Since 2010, the aid sector has invested significant funds in innovation practice, implementing pilots and other practices borrowed from Silicon Valley. While this has supported some impact, the aid sector has now hit a plateau with innovation, struggling to scale what works, frustrated by ‘digital litter’ (unsustainable technology projects), trying to overcome the small innovation trap, and ‘pilotitis’ (fatigue from implementing small-scale projects that never scale up). Many innovation leaders in the social and development sectors are realising that the ‘lean’ innovation approaches commonly used do not work well for the complex challenges in their sector.
System innovation enables humanitarian innovators to advance truly impactful and ambitious forms of change in the real world.
To create the change and impact that our work demands, organisations must be able to work with real and messy challenges, and create large-scale innovative solutions. The sector is beginning to use system innovation to move past simplifying challenges in lean experiments and hackathons. This paper discusses how system innovation can support humanitarians to take the next step to innovation effectiveness, to create real impact in communities.