IIEEE GHTC - Engineering Scale Up in Humanitarian Innovations Messy Middle

(A concise version of themes explored in the World Humanitarian Summit report on Engineering Scaled Up Humanitarian Innovations.  Presented at the IEEE Conference on Global Humanitarian Technology Conference for 2015.  Coauthored with Ian Gray.)

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The growing ability of the Humanitarian Sector to apply lightweight lean innovation techniques and deliver promising new Pilot programs has not been matched by corresponding capacity to bring these ideas to scale. The initial explanation this shortfall has been the failure of Pilots to adequately apply techniques such as User Centered Design.  

This focus ignores deeper more systematic challenges in the way an innovation must be transformed from a fast moving Pilot to a mature solution ready for replication.   We’ve identified the gap between these two very different solution states as the “missing middle” of innovation.   It is characterized by complex solution architecture challenges across multiple domains. 

In this perspective, the primary reason innovations fail to scale is not because of bad Pilots, but because of the general omission of a set of complex solution architecture tasks. Little attention has been given to this difficult work.  In an effort to provide a framing model around the nature of the challenge, this paper proposes four areas that need to be intentionally addressed as part of a Scale Up initiative. 

The “Four C’s” include: Completeness, Compromise, Connection and Commercials. The paper describes the nature of each of these challenges in the light of the Humanitarian Sector.   

IEEE GHTC Paper Download