The ResilientAfrica Network (RAN) facilitates African Universities to develop innovative solutions to resilience challenges in Sub-Saharan Africa. In the last three years, the program has established a secretariat as well as a network of core partners, Tulane University’s Disaster Resilience Leadership Academy (DRLA), Stanford University and the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). Additionally, the four Resilience Innovation Labs (RI Labs) were set up to develop, implement and evaluate program activities.
The Joint Innovation Management, Monitoring and Evaluation workshop took place August 3-8, 2015 at the Makerere University School of Public Health ResilientAfrica Network (RAN) Innovation Lab in collaboration with one of RAN’s core partners ChangeLabs, Stanford University http://changelabs.stanford.edu/ in the USA. The workshop’s primary purpose was to review the RAN Impact Potential Methodology with a focus on its implications for innovation management and RAN/Higher Education Solutions Network (HESN) http://www.usaid.gov/hesn indicators to which it contributes.
The Joint Workshop sought to take from theory to practice, RAN’s approach to building impact potential of the innovations through the pipeline from design through scale. The workshop objectives included; empowering and equipping participants to apply RAN’s Impact Potential Model, and to enhance the use of Modular Knowledge and Information Transaction Systems (MKITS) as learning, teaching, and project management tool.
Specifically, Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) was highlighted as a key component of RAN’s structure both at the secretariat and RILabs. The M&E function undertakes elaboration of RAN’s vision of success, collection and analysis of data for tracking program performance and facilitates use of data for adaptive program implementation. At the RAN Secretariat and RI Labs exists a fully staffed M&E team supported by Tulane University’s Disaster Resilience Leadership Academy (DRLA) and Stanford University. The M&E workshop, the first of its kind, was planned with the following objectives:
To ensure that the RAN M&E teams have the same deep understanding of:
- The M&E strategy
- Indicator definitions
- Data collection tools
- Quality standards
- Indicator database
- RAN reporting tools
- How to work with innovation officers and teams on designing and measuring evaluable innovation projects
During the opening remarks, Prof. William Bazeyo, Dean Makerere University School of Public Health and RAN Chief of Party/ Lab Director welcomed participants from all the RAN RILabs including some of the Eastern Africa RI Lab Innovation Advisory Board members, the Innovation Officers and M&E Officers. “The success of the RAN program lies entirely on what M&E does. Let us all aim at detailed documentation using the M&E Indicators. We want to witness the impact these innovations will cause in the communities” noted Prof. Bazeyo. “Innovation is the way to go, we the Innovation Advisory Board Members are more than happy and willing to push these efforts forward for the benefit of the vulnerable communities” shared Prof. Elly Sabiiti.
While addressing the Innovation Officers, Prof. Bazeyo re-echoed that the RAN project is entirely about Innovation. “RAN’s core business is innovation” he reminded the participants. He urged all never to ignore anything citing the fact that even using a safety pin to remove a jigger from a human body in itself is an Innovation. “Bring all the Innovative Projects into the Labs and nurture them for the benefit of the vulnerable communities…” he added.
Facilitating the hands on informative and interactive Innovation Management Workshop was Theo Gibbs from ChangeLabs Stanford University. She continuously shared that “An Innovator should approach addressing a community challenge with a creative beginner’s mind and not a naive one”. That with emphasis on direct observation, Ethnography and Needfinding are important Innovation development tools. The “fail early and fail cheaply” mantra was also highlighted. Costly, unproductive investments can be avoided through rapid, low-cost prototyping of the human desirability, technical feasibility, and business viability of a new product or service under development. This early testing is critical for creating successful and scalable products.
In addition, all the necessary stakeholders should be engaged early in the prototyping process so that these may become critical scaling partners early enough and thus enable the innovators register growth and diffusion. “There is need to focus on the problem or community challenge itself and not just the innovative solution. When we develop these solutions and place them on the table, of course we the innovators are the experts but we cannot get our products however beautiful they look and gun them down to the communities’ throats” emphasized Dr. Dorothy Okello, RAN Director of Innovation. Furthermore, she complimented Theo Gibbs’ presentation noting that it is better that we garner the innovative projects in partnership with the communities. Present them to the communities as suggestions and ask the communities how best we can go about improving and implementing a particular project. Key questions to ask the communities include but are not limited to; what will the community use the product for? How do we improve/apply/implement a particular project in a particular community? How will the innovative project be guarded and managed in the communities? As soon as the Innovators conceive the innovative idea, they should also start thinking about the Business Model. The two are equally important.
The six days workshop covering areas of; Introduction to Impact Potential, Essentials of Project Management, M&E of Impact Potential, MKITS for Teaching, Learning and Monitoring Impact Potential in Action-Synthesis and Review was concluded with a hands-on Rapid Prototyping MKIT creation session with farmers in one of the RAN target community in Wakiso District of Uganda. It was educative witnessing the Unearthing the potential of earthworms: Use of biomass to massively breed earth-worms as an alternative to small/silver fish as a source of protein in chicken feed project team engage farmers in a Prototyping session.