The TUKLAS Innovation Labs ran an extensive Call for Ideas from September 25 to November 30, 2017. We conducted information sessions, media work, writing workshops, coaching sessions, consultations, promotion among non-government organization (NGO) networks and various organizations, and provision of other forms of support for potential applicants. Materials were also translated to three major Filipino languages (Bisaya, Iloko, Tagalog) to maximize its reach. Print and online materials were also readily available.
As a result, we received 266 final proposal submissions from 88 provinces and highly urbanized cities – covering all 17 regions of the Philippines.
Looking back at our experience, there were realizations that emerged along the way that compelled us to adjust our plans and there are reflections for what we could have done better.
We realized the need to overcome geographical barriers and reach out to potential innovators coming from distant communities. In a country with about 2,000 inhabited islands, it was not enough to tap on our partner non-government organizations (NGO) networks and have four community labs distributed among the different regions. Having only a two-month window for the call, we wanted to have a wide reach that goes beyond the major cities. Instead of conducting only four information sessions nationwide, we conducted 50 sessions. Through the help of other NGOs, government, schools and universities, and other networks, we were able to organize information sessions which were participated by individuals and groups from communities that are difficult to reach.
We realized the need to emphasize an inclusive ideation process that supports ideas coming from marginalized communities. We discerned that we had to modify project activities to ensure that even community members with no formal education will have an equal opportunity to be an innovator. We realized that our initial process was leaning towards innovators who completed formal education, had considerable communication skills, or had previous experience in submitting project proposals. To address this, we made efforts to localize and customize our activities to be appropriate for people of various backgrounds and we provided intensive support to applicants coming from marginalized groups who may have difficulty writing and expressing their ideas.
First, we modified our proposal format and selection process to be simpler and to focus more on the concepts rather than the technical writing aspect. We consciously avoided criteria that clearly favor those with better writing and communication skills. Second, we customized our activities and materials to be communicated in local languages. This includes translation of proposal formats, offering translation services for proposal submitted in local languages, and conduct of activities in languages best understood by the participants. Third, although not part of the original plan, we conducted writing workshops for those who requested more guidance in writing their proposals. Fourth, we approached potential applicants and offered individual coaching sessions to be conducted face-to-face or remotely via Skype or mobile phone. Fifth, we provided a digital library of learning resource materials for innovators to supplement their proposals.
Even potential innovators with formal education or experience may need additional support for ideation phase. We originally intended to conduct writing workshops to support the applicants from marginalized communities who have no prior experience in proposal writing and those who would specifically request assistance. When we planned these workshops, we asked potential applicants who expressed interest during the information sessions if they would request further guidance and would like to join the writing workshops. Contrary to what we expected, there were many applicants from the NGOs and the academe who expressed interest. Surprisingly, there were many participants from the academe who expressed that they found the writing workshops to be very helpful and even desired to adopt the method for their own proposal writing activities.
We realized that we should have compiled and presented a list of existing Disaster Risk Reduction Management (DRRM) products, technology, systems, and services during the ideation phase. For the first wave of proposal review, we noticed that there were many ideas that did not seem innovative. There were ideas that appeared to be only minimal customizations of relatively new initiatives. There were also some ideas that really did not seem innovative but rather emphasized a compelling need for what may be considered as common DRRM services (e.g. hazard mapping and DRRM trainings). These observations suggest that both the Consortium members and the innovators should be updated on the existing products, technology, systems, and services that may be regarded as “within the box” of widely implemented DRRM initiatives. One possible way of addressing this is to prepare a list of existing or common DRRM initiatives which may aid in exploring ideas that are “out of the box.” This is something that we recommended if the ideation phase were to be conducted again.
In summary, we acknowledge that affected communities have local knowledge that can be further developed into disaster preparedness solutions under an innovation lab approach. But we learned that there is still a need to extensively strengthen the capacities of the potential innovators and the staff who are supporting them during the ideation phase. This is because “innovation” is still considered a buzzword in development and humanitarian work, and everyone is still on the learning curve. As per our experience, we tried to provide intensive support for the facilitation of ideas, shared some resources on existing DRRM initiatives to encourage “out of the box” solutions, to name a few. The goal in mind was to have an inclusive ideation process to provide equal opportunity for Filipinos from all walks of life to become an innovator.
This strategy gained significant results. But ideating with communities is just the tip of the ice berg. We have yet to know how these ideas will thrive in an innovation lab approach; or the other way around, how the innovation lab approach would be able to harness local knowledge, resources, and capacities towards disaster preparedness.