This report analyses the humanitarian innovation ecosystem within the
sub-sector of humanitarian response known as WASH (Water, Sanitation and
Hygiene). It is based upon 25 in-depth interviews with administrators,
practitioners, and researchers, all with long and deep experience in the
sector, as well as published and unpublished secondary source material.
Two main conceptual frameworks are used to understand the WASH
innovation ecosystem. The first is an idealised model of the system
dynamics of innovation, identifying different stages and activities
typically involved in innovation. The second (the Rs framework) seeks to
uncover detailed factors influencing system operation and uses the
following headings: resources, roles, relationships, rules, routines,
and results. Taken together, these frameworks characterise the main
elements of the system, and detail influences that facilitate or inhibit
the various stages of the innovation process.
Overall the innovation ecosystem functions reasonably coherently,
allowing the identification of needs to be translated into viable
innovations through targeted allocation of resources, but it tends to
encourage incremental innovations, rather than more radical ones. While
continually improving the WASH humanitarian response, this may not match
the increasing demands from the changing type, intensity and frequency
of disasters. There are also some significant barriers to innovation,
especially in moving potential innovations into widespread use.
Within this incremental change, priorities have shifted between
subsectors, with a shift from focusing primarily on water towards
encouraging greater innovation in sanitation (hygiene promotion remains
a relatively small part of the overall effort). This shows the
connection between resource allocation and innovation, as well as a
degree of strategic direction in the innovation ecosystem. Nevertheless,
the financial resources are small and not especially well designed for
supporting the whole process: more resources are provided for the
front-end of innovation, fewer for development and testing, very little
for diffusion and adoption.
Although there is some level of coordination from key actors, the
innovation ecosystem has mostly been ad hoc and informal. Some recent
attempts have aimed to make it more systematic, especially in
understanding user needs and building a comprehensive evidence base, but
there is still a long way to go. The WASH sector exhibits innovation
routines that involve both closed and open search and development
strategies: the former reduces risk, is more likely to result in
implementation, but unlikely to produce radically new ideas; the latter
may open up the search space for interesting new solutions, but the
risks of failure are higher. Funding rules, national government
influences on procurement, and the need to manage risk during
humanitarian crises, all place limits on the type and degree of
innovation. This again encourages incremental innovations, discourages
potential innovators from becoming involved, and limits the widespread
diffusion of innovations that are developed.
The report concludes with eight recommendations aimed at improving both
the efficiency and effectiveness of the WASH innovation ecosystem.
Rush, H.; Marshall, N. Case Study: Innovation in Water, Sanitation and Hygiene. CENTRIM, University of Brighton, Brighton, UK (2015) 63 pp.