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  • Writer's pictureannaschurmann

The Best Innovation Toolkits

Post updated in December 2015 to include Business Model Generator (see below)

For my current assignment, we have been tasked to create an innovation toolkit for the district level in the hope that; fostering innovation within government programs will find solutions to intractable problems; increase health worker engagement and motivation; help adapt national guidelines to local realities; and enliven a sluggish system.

I am reviewing existing innovation toolkits to see what might work for state-level government officials, NGO partners and Village Health Committees. However, there were some key challenges with the existing tool-kits for our use:

  • While it is important to foster creativity, many officials are time-poor and pragmatic by nature, so it needs to be introduced surreptitiously. Anything that sounds very creative could be dismissed as frivolous.

  • We don’t know if skilled facilitators would be available to guide the use of the toolkit, so for this reason, I needed to find fairly straightforward activities that don’t require excessive materials or facilitation.

  • One of the main things missing from all the toolkits was case studies and examples of how the toolkits were implemented. This would have made the benefits of the activities and processes more tangible.

Please let me know if you know of any additional innovation resources that you have found helpful!

Human Centered Design Toolkit: IDEO

This toolkit is designed for NGO use in low-resource settings, and is well designed and laid out, with clearly demarcated tips, warnings, and advice on how to incorporate gender and equality principles into the research process (see “Identity Power and Politics” worksheet on page 159). The focus is specifically on the formative research stage, less the actual innovation or implementation. This was funded by BMGF and put together by IDEO, ICRW, Heiffer International and IDE.

D-School Boot-camp Bootleg

This toolkit is from Stanford’s Design School boot-camp, a crash course for non-designers, to introduce them to the most commonly used “design thinking” tools. Easy to use, with clearly demarcated sections on “Why” you would use each tool, and “How” to use it. It is clearly targeted to a tertiary educated audience, but the tools can be adapted for different groups. The design is a little scruffy, reflecting the fast-prototype, quick and ready attitude of the kit. One draw-back for using this kit with team of non-designers is that the creativity exercises may seem distracting, impractical or intimidating for people who are used to working in a more pragmatic way.

Development Impact and You (DIY) Toolkit

This is a great little toolkit is not just about innovation, but also covers program management, review and scale up. Unlike the other toolkits reviewed here it includes case studies illustrating examples of how the tools have been used in the field – in a variety of global locations. It is well designed, clearly the level of difficulty and risk for each activity. Each tool is introduced by a clear purpose statement (for example, “I want to..identify common values”). One downside with this resource is that many of the tools are conceptually complex, and may be hard to use in a participatory way at the distrct, block and village level.

The Innovator's Toolkit: 50+ Techniques for Predictable and Sustainable Growth

Unfortunately, this is not free for download, but a great resource nonetheless. This book is like a management textbook, easy to read and use. It has fewer participatory group activities, and less emphasis on creativity than the other manuals - but more comprehensive content on financial planning, business analysis, and psychology. It is definitely targeted to the tertiary education and professional markets. This toolkit is not necessarily something you could pick up and use right away, it might need careful study to figure out which tools best suit your context.

Innovation Labs: A Do-It-Yourself Guide: UNICEF

This guide was written for UNICEF country offices intending to set up “Innovation Labs” – a dedicated physical space and team committed to creating innovative solutions. It includes job descriptions and TORs for lab staff, budget plans and concepts notes, and documentation of lab successes. It does not have resources for participatory innovation activities. It is best suited to staff within UNICEF.

Collective Action Toolkit: Frog

This is an easy to use toolkit designed for community leaders to approach shared problems and act on them. It equips users with participatory tools to seek new understanding, generate innovative solutions, and create a plan for action. This toolkit does not take users off on creative tangents that might be intimidating or confusing for laypeople, instead it is very pragmatic and participatory.

Creative Confidence: Tom & David Kelley

This is a like a self-help business psychology book, but it has some tools described in the back section. These are all similar to the tools in the Bootcamp toolkit, but as they are described in a paperback format, the format is harder to use. The text on building creative confidence is interesting and inspiring, good for an aeroplane read.

UNICEF Innovation Toolkit

The layout of this toolkit hard to engage with – all the text is in bullet points with little context provided. However, there were good features. After each activity, details are provided about how the activity was conducted, basically describing the strengths, weaknesses and potential pitfalls of each activity. I found this interesting and helpful. This toolkit has good content, but it would need to be adapted for a lay-audience.

UNICEF India Country Office Guidelines on Piloting and Scaling Up of Innovations and Good Practices

This toolkit is more focused on the planning and documentation required for piloting and scale up, not so much the process of innovation itself. It is targeted to UNICEF officials and describes the organizations own documentation and planning requirements. It is of some utility to outside stakeholders, with, for example, good formats for a stakeholder analysis in appendix 6.

Jugaad Innovation

This was not a toolkit but represents an interesting concept: the cultural inclination to creatively make-do or adapt in difficult circumstances. The book however, is hard to read or use - it includes a lot of principles and details, making it easy to lose the point.

Business Model Generation

This website and accompanying book helps apply design thinking to business strategy. The main feature is a template "canvas" for brainstorming a business pan - called the Business Model Canvas. The book is a pleasure to read, and a well designed and laid out. Includes details about story telling, visual thinking and the "design attitude" required to make the process work. Also includes tools to assess your business model. There is also an accompanying online course and web app, both available at a cost.

For more on innovation, read my interview with Carla Lopez, IDEO Public Health Specialist - here.

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