Facilitators Humanitarian Action Challenge praise contestants

The Humanitarian Action Challenge kicked off in October. The initiative aims to break new ground by forging multi-disciplinary collaboration for peace, justice, and humanitarian action. We checked in with program facilitators Dan McClure, Joe Guay and Thomas Baar to hear about their experience so far.

The Humanitarian Action Challenge hopes to increase the impact of innovation in humanitarian aid by carefully facilitating the prototyping process of the six winning teams that were announced early September. Dan McClure, Joseph Guay and Thomas Baar joined hands to ensure smooth running of the process.

Responding well

Popular thinking about innovation tells us that failure is fine – the faster, the better. Dan McClure assesses, “Moving quickly is certainly good, but what really matters is learning quickly and responding well”.

He continues, “That’s what the teams are doing really well. Their thinking remains flexible and inquisitive even as they wrestle with really difficult challenges in humanitarian aid.”

Stepping back

The Humanitarian Action Challenge explicitly backs away from more common solution-driven innovation. “This program represents a significant shift away from solution-driven innovation to really ground the work in problem exploration and context,” Joseph Guay emphasizes.

Thomas Baar stresses, “In innovation, we often focus on new technologies or opportunities. However, instead of starting innovation processes by focusing on foreseen solutions, it is critical to first develop a profound understanding of the actual challenges that need to be addressed. Only on this basis, we can understand whether the foreseen opportunities could actually be of relevance and fit for purpose”.

Reassessing assumptions

“The workshop stood out as teams were open in engaging in this process,” Thomas says. “Instead of taking their proposed solutions as their starting point, they were all open to reassess their challenge and reflect on which approach to take.”

He continues, “This was both demonstrated in the ways in which people critically reflected on their own ideas and constructively engaged with each other’s projects. This led many teams to revise their initial ideas”.

Leveraging diversity

Dan says, “Most innovators want to jump to their solution. That’s where the fun is for them. This group stands out for their willingness to step back and look at the roots of the problems they are trying to solve”.

He adds, “The diversity of intellect and perspective enabled teams to vigorously push and pull on ideas, debating each other’s visions for complex solutions. The program really leveraged its diversity”.

He concludes, “Do you realize how great it is to be in a room where twenty people are working to solve really hard problems that really do matter?”