World Bank asks,what’s so great about Social Innovation Labs?

The World Bank runs an online platform called “Striking Poverty” that features discussions on topics that relate to development and poverty reduction.  Past topics have included open data, innovations in social inclusions, and ICT.

This month, they are looking at “ecosystems for innovation and the role of innovation labs.”  I am participating along with managers of innovation labs at the World Bank and UNICEF.  Aleem Walji, from the World Bank, just wrote some interesting reflections on the purpose of innovation, and the importance of failure, measurement, and risk taking:

I think of it as the ‘disrupt or be disrupted’ moment. If you don’t reinvent yourself at these key moments, you guarantee your obsolescence. We need space and time to experiment and learn. We need accountability and opportunity. We need discipline and experimentation. We need to measure and we need to learn from failure. That’s the heart of innovation.

What are your thoughts? The discussion is open to all!  Feel free to post your own comments or questions on the Striking Poverty site, on Twitter (tweet @strikingpoverty), or here on the SILver lining blog in the comments section.

Below are my opening thoughts, (as posted on the striking poverty platform).

Maria May, Programme Manager, BRACJust weeks ago, Bill Gates wrote, “I believe…innovation is the key for the future.” Many of us working in development also cling to a hope that innovation will enable new, faster ways to make the world better for all.

But frankly I approach the whole concept of “innovation” with much skepticism. The truth is, I’ve seen so many prize-winning innovations that just collect dust. What we often fail to appreciate is the immense value of simplicity. Southern thought leaders on innovation, like Professor Anil Gupta, urge innovators to trade speed for something that doesn’t require maintenance and is easy to use. Innovation is largely about making more of what you have by combining it in new ways, or with small additions. It’s the next sticky note that most efforts should be seeking to create, not the next i-pad.

Ideas like that usually emerge when one intimately understands a context and the mundane problems of the status quo. At BRAC, we know that many of our clients, extension workers, teachers, and frontline staff have great insights and ideas. Imagine what we could learn if we could find a way to collect them! But figuring out widely accessible mechanisms and how to absorb them is easier said than done. Our microfinance program alone has over four million clients and 2,000 branch offices. How can we best listen to them? Is it possible (and wise) to create participatory decision-making processes at an organization of this size?

In the past year, our Social Innovation Lab has experimented with “high-tech” (i.e. sms-based) polls and “low-tech” (i.e. the good, old idea box) forms of engagement. I look forward to discussing strategies for participation– ways that organizational culture, practices and structures enable innovation (or not), and the value of investing in an internal space for innovation

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