Innovation 3.0 – Bigger Solutions for Harder Problems

Written by Dan McClure

28th February 2019

In the face of increasing humanitarian challenges, it is time to tackle bigger problems with bigger solutions. The Global Alliance for Humanitarian Innovation (GAHI) therefore advocates an ambitious systems innovation approach to complex humanitarian challenges in the forthcoming Innovation 3.0 Model.

Based on extensive research, consultation and experience, the author, Dan McClure, roots the 3.0 model in the conviction that leaders in humanitarian aid needs to take bold steps across multiple domains - to address sophisticated system innovation challenges. While a great deal has been achieved with narrowly defined innovation practices and programs, this is no longer enough. The 3.0 model and the paper behind it call for the Sector’s development of a broad new ecosystem of system innovation capabilities.

This is complicated work that spans a wide range of subjects. GAHI currently is investing in four integrated streams of work designed to drive this new innovation capability forward: Undertaking Impactful Problems, Envisioning New Innovation Investments, Fostering Robust Scale Methodologies and Developing Advanced Innovation Capabilities.

Unsolved System Problems and Barriers to Scale

GAHI’s mission - to collectively scale the impact of innovations - emerged from a recognition that humanitarian needs are soaring and that the growing difficulty of serving people in crisis threatens the ability to meet key Sustainable Development Goals. As a sector, we are faced with complex challenges such as: the localization of responses; breaking the cycle of perpetual aid; and dealing with “wicked problems” such as urban aid, aid in conflict zones and gender-based violence. Alongside these intransigent problems are persistent barriers to scaling innovations that might otherwise have contributed to their solution.

At their root, these are all system-based challenges - problems which have proven unresponsive to current innovation techniques. It is doubtful that simply investing more in existing innovation projects and processes will deliver the transformational impact that people and communities increasingly require. We need to be able to undertake more complex innovations.

Building a new level of systems innovation capacity and using it to deliver impact at scale will be a significant challenge for innovators, sponsors, and organizations within the humanitarian sector. There are few ready-made road maps. Unlike earlier generations of innovation, which could be imported from established commercial practices, new system innovation methodologies are actually being pioneered in complex domains like humanitarian aid.

Imagining the Next Generation of Innovation

Innovation 3.0 has been made possible because of GAHI’s capacity as an alliance. It has been able to consult with and incorporate the unique experiences and lessons of innovators, practitioners and decision makers in the sector to collectively build new systems and solutions that deliver innovation matched to the complexity of humanitarian crisis.

This framework identifies where initiatives are needed, guiding GAHI practice and that of its members, and provides a way to develop a shared view of broad innovation challenges with peers who are collaborating on these efforts.

The Innovation 3.0 approach is not simply a call for more innovation. It is a chance to tackle harder problems with bigger solutions, and extend the sector’s creative aspirations. Our research surmises that the first and second generation of innovation techniques have made useful contributions, but that there is still a substantial gap in the ability of the sector to respond to many of its most important challenges.

Interlocking capabilities need to be imagined, tested and deployed to make Innovation 3.0 possible. Practices tied to prior generations of innovation are already well imbedded in the sector. Instead of being content to consolidate progress made with existing innovation techniques, we are advocating for the development and use of a next generation of system innovation capability.

There will be a need for a wide range of new methodologies, tools, and resources that span diverse domains:

  • problem definition
  • financing
  • portfolio design
  • program management
  • innovator methodologies
  • measurement
  • ethics

GAHI’s policy outputs and convening activity reflects the diversity of need in this underpinning strategy. Recent initiatives include our Humanitarian Innovation: Untangling the many paths to scale framework (focus area 6 in the model diagram above), upcoming evidence-based research and recommendations on DLT Blockchain (focus area 2) in the humanitarian sector, and work towards a collective data-ethics platform (focus area 2 and 9).

What is Next for Innovation 3.0?

The full paper explores the historical context of innovation that has produced current capabilities and then examines the challenges and opportunities of building a next generation systems innovation capacity.

Creating a systems innovation ecosystem that delivers bigger solutions to harder problems will be no easy feat. Developing a new Innovation 3.0 capability will require coordinated action across the sector and even beyond its normal bounds. Financial institutions, government donors, innovators, and local communities all need to be involved. This work should be grounded in practical application and iterative evolution of concepts, tools, and institutions.

If you would like to receive an electronic copy of the publication, please write to

Click here to view the publication

There aren’t any comments yet, be the first the post a comment using the form below.

Add a comment

Please Note: All fields are required and your email will not be displayed.

 Type the characters you see in the picture above.