How Can Nonprofits Develop a Pilot Innovation Process that Works for Volunteers?

How Can Nonprofits Develop a Pilot Innovation Process that Works for Volunteers?
  • How Can Nonprofits Develop a Pilot Innovation Process that Works for Volunteers? - Innovation Management
By: Rob Hoehn

The innovation process (as variable as it can be) has a seemingly basic format no matter what your goal is: once you understand the problem, you identify some solutions to test. Those tests often occur in some limited, proof-of-concept format and are then rolled out for large-scale adoption. However, while testing out some sort of pilot scenario seems like a logical next step, many organizations aren’t sure how to do this, and it’s especially true for nonprofits where resources can be limited and every dollar must be accounted for.

It’s for this reason that Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières) uses field testing to validate any of their new innovations before they adopt it organization-wide.

Doctors Without Borders is the world’s leading independent international medical relief organization, implementing and managing medical projects in close to 72 countries worldwide. For the last 50 years, they have provided medical assistance to people affected by armed conflicts, natural disasters, disease epidemics, malnutrition crises and other emergencies, and they have worked with some of the most creative, multifaceted members on the planet to deliver their services.

In 2017, Doctors Without Borders decided they would take advantage of the talent of their members and the relatively flat structure of their organization by launching a platform called “Think Up” where MSF identifies operational challenges and strategic ambitions and their members propose creative solutions. Campaigns have covered everything from “How can we meet our goals during COVID?” to “How can we become a more sustainable planetary health organization?” The team also maintains an open-ended campaign that is used to constantly identify and cultivate new initiatives outside of structured campaigns. Suggestions can range from small efficiency gains to transformational ideas.

When a campaign launches, anyone can submit an idea to the system, but all ideas are reviewed for appropriateness and relation to the campaign subject matter, then others can vote and comment on that idea. Afterward, depending on the type of the idea, a small team of experts work with the idea sponsor to finish an idea charter, determine objectives, idea developing team etc. Once everything is posted, initial development and review will commence that will determine if the concept is innovative, feasible, and viable.

Depending on the success and type of idea, either a proof-of-concept or pilot implementation will be the next step before the outcome is presented to the top management team. Those proof of concepts or pilot implementations occur in small, real-world field work settings to determine whether or not the promising ideas could truly help solve a problem when applied to real-life scenarios. Those findings help guide decision making and (for Doctors Without Borders), the process has worked. As a result of this program, DWB has introduced numerous new solutions, including an educational game app developed during the Ebola outbreak that taught individuals about Ebola to help them adjust social behavior. It was later adapted for COVID as well and  gained over a million clicks on social media. Another idea was the MSFeCARE, which is a tool to provide frontline clinicians with guided decision-making support to increase the quality of clinical assessment and care (particularly in children under the age of five).

These (and many other) improvements were aided by the research conducted by the field teams and the members who tested them. It was critical to see how the ideas worked in real-world scenarios so that they could adjust and find better ways of applying solutions on a large-scale. What sorts of environments could you pilot an idea in?

To learn more, download the Doctors Without Borders crowdsourcing case study here.

About the Author

Rob Hoehn is the co-founder and CEO of IdeaScale: the largest open innovation software platform in the world. Hoehn launched crowdsourcing software as part of the open government initiative and IdeaScale’s robust portfolio now includes many other industry notables, such as EA Sports, NBC, NASA, Xerox and many others. Prior to IdeaScale, Hoehn was Vice President of Client Services at Survey Analytics.

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Featured image via Pixabay.

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