Using Network-Centred Innovation to drive development outcomes

Rachael Imam

There are many different ways to approach innovation. It’s a concept that continues to evolve and change, providing new opportunities to produce development outcomes. While it was once considered the domain of the hero individual, it is now far more common for those at the centre of the innovative process to invite in a range of opinions to help improve their idea. Rather than closing themselves off from the world and toiling with a problem alone, innovators, and the innovative process, have become far more open.

Having spent the last nine years supporting innovations in the diverse areas of food, water, aquaculture, manufacturing and community data, we at SecondMuse have come to realise that for some problems, open innovation simply is not enough. The reality is that a lot of the problems that our world faces today are global ones, each with a complex series of interconnected causes that pay little attention to natural or manmade borders. Add to this the fact that supply chains have also become globalised, and it becomes clear that locally focused solutions alone can only go so far. What our world needs is an approach that connects these local solutions to their global contexts – solutions that can actually be implemented in the real world. To do this, we need networks.

For the past three years, SecondMuse and the iXc have been testing a new approach to development innovation that moves beyond the individual, or even the open call, and brings together diverse networks of actors for a more holistic type of problem solving. You have probably heard the saying that it takes a village to raise a child. Well, we believe that it takes a network to raise an innovation. We call this approach Network-Centred Innovation (NCI), and see it as the next step in development innovation’s evolution.

How this works is that NCI networks are made up of actors from all across the domain of the challenge. What unites them is their commitment to finding lasting solutions and their desire to truly collaborate with others in order to do so. By harnessing the collective resources of the network, NCI is able to hone in on the problem that needs to be solved, bring in those who can help to address it, before finding, refining and supporting the innovations that are best positioned to catalyse change.

Through the DFAT and SecondMuse partnership, networks have begun to address challenges of malnutrition, and sustainable aquaculture. In just the past twelve months, our NCI approach has brought together over 500 experts and innovators, including high-impact companies such as NIKE, Ikea, Intel, Google, and Coles. As more and more of these big companies get involved in development challenges, we have a unique opportunity to connect them with other unlikely players who are working in the same space. Despite how beneficial these interactions have proven to be, they are incredibly uncommon outside of NCI. “The differentiator here is unconventional partners,” says IKEA’s Håkan Nordkvist, “and the strong conviction among the partners about the necessity to innovate and disrupt, to enable the future we want to live in.”

The ability to work within a unified network is equally as beneficial to the smaller companies and groups that are looking to create the greatest impact with their innovation by getting it to a global market. Mark Noyce, the CEO of Australian-based environmental innovation company Biofilta says that the NCI approach “represents a once-in a life-time opportunity to get in front of some really game-changing companies and people that can make a difference.”

“While the strength of NCI lies in the diversity of its networks,” says SecondMuse partner Stuart Gill “it is essential that all who contribute are committed to advancing a shared vision.” Through these unique and powerful networks, NCI provides us all with a chance to work together, and be collectively responsible for changing our future for the better.

This is the first in a five part series on the role of the network in innovation. Watch this space for case studies of how NCI works in action.

About the author:

Rachael Imam is a Communications Associate at the Network-Centred Innovation Company SecondMuse. Her work in the advertising industry, combined with her study of development and experiences creating multimedia content abroad have exposed Rachael to a range of unique perspectives and ideas. She endeavours to share stories of progress from around the world in a way that is informative, accessible and entertaining. SecondMuse is a close collaborator of the innovationXchange, working on projects such as, the Pacific Humanitarian Challenge, the Blue Economy Challenge, Frontier Innovators and LAUNCH Food.

Contact Rachael for more information on NCI and the work of SecondMuse.

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