Innovation Management, Innovation Ecosystems and Humanitarian Innovation


This literature review was written for the Humanitarian Innovation Ecosystem Research Project. Given the focus on ecosystem approaches to innovation, the strategy taken in this literature review is to move from some basic concepts on innovation management to an understanding of current best practice and then on to new approaches that are emerging in the context of a changing technological and market landscape.

Section 1 presents a historical overview, exploring the progress from simple linear models based upon knowledge push or needs pull, through to more complex conceptualisations of the process which have been built upon numerous empirical studies of those factors which have been identified as affecting success and failure. The newer models emphasise the linkages occurring between the organisation and geographically dispersed external actors, with whom interactions often take place within networked environments typically labelled as innovation systems or ecosystems.

Section 2 sets out core concepts in innovation management in more detail. This section focuses on the stable body of knowledge on which innovation management courses and textbooks are based. Included are descriptions and explanations of how the process of innovation takes place, the role of creativity within a spectrum of novelty, the role of entrepreneurship and multiple actor interactions, as well as the importance of those factors influencing the diffusion of innovation.

Having looked at the core themes in innovation management, which have emerged as a stable knowledge base on which to organise and manage, section 3 presents the current frontier in the literature and practice. It explores a number of the key cutting-edge issues in innovation management that are especially relevant to humanitarian aid: open innovation, user-linked innovation, innovation systems and ecosystems, and public sector/social innovation. A number of other complementary approaches are also briefly covered, and the section concludes with a contingency model to help readers more readily navigate the diverse and extensive literature. Section 4 explores the emergence of thinking and practices in humanitarian innovation, where the literature begins almost a century later than innovation management. The review concludes by drawing out potential lessons and challenges for the Humanitarian Aid sector drawn from the mainstream literature around innovation management, and particularly the potential for novel approaches that focus on systemic concepts. The challenges identified include the development of a core capacity, the need for ambidexterity, the role of entrepreneurs, the potential for user-led and open innovation, as well as the need to balance risk, reward and reliability within the incentives systems and structures embedded in the sector.


Bessant, J.; Ramalingam, B.; Rush, H.; Marshall, N.; Hoffman, K.; Gray, B. Innovation Management, Innovation Ecosystems and Humanitarian Innovation. (2014) 47 pp.

Innovation Management, Innovation Ecosystems and Humanitarian Innovation

Published 1 January 2014