After the honeymoon: our reflections on way forward

Posted December 16, 2019

The lab should operate with the client in mind. UNDP Photo

As Malawi Accelerator Lab, we have just clocked over 40 days together working as a team and interacting with the Country Office (CO).   It has been an interesting time to bond, panic (mood swinging between excitement and despair), learn and bag a few deliverables. The lab is still in its formation stage and the team is being baptized into the UNDP system which sometimes can feel like baptism by fire.  Nevertheless, given that there is no perfect lab coupled with the spirit of failing forward, we can only share our thinking on how we can navigate the future as opposed to prescribing best practice

i.   Proper positioning in the UNDP organizational architecture

The lab should operate with the client in mind, which means clear intention for the lab to serve the entire UNDP and its partners with a strong accountability model.   There definitely should be a symbiotic relationship between the lab team and the CO team as the lab may have some unique benefits which can be shared with the CO.

The lab plays a cross-cutting role across portfolios in programmes within the CO but is physically located outside the CO office space.  Separating the lab team from the rest of the organization is great as it creates space for doing business unusual.  However, as a team we should to an extent be bound by the same organizational policies and procedures which can be predominantly tedious at times but provide room to hack when there is enough understanding of the organizational culture.  For instance, we can utilize the predominant electronic systems within UNDP to simplify processes while adhering to industry best practice

ii.    Innovation as a shared commodity

It is imperative for the team not to feel overly special as negative ego will confuse organizational hygiene.  We should not come across as arrogant in how, as the lab, we collaborate with both programmes and operations teams.  We should not only be open to feedback on how we are working, but also ensure that innovation is everyone’s job within CO and partner offices.   In fact, notable innovation will come from team members already working on challenges  the lab is looking to solve.  Therefore, as a team we should structure and run initiatives for the wider organisation to give every member an opportunity to participate and innovate.  We anticipate that in the process mindsets, culture and perceptions will change and shift comfort zones towards doing business unusual.

 iii.  Beyond the innovation theatre 

There is a place for an investment in the lab’s ambiance (colorful walls, cozy seats, coffee and all) to spark creativity but this alone falls short on bringing innovation.  As the lab team, we should always have a true north on how our success looks like for the lab and organize our resources in delivering the success. Our ultimate success metric is bringing about change which makes people’s lives better. We are cognizant of the fact that it will be difficult to narrow down to a specific success metric or key performance indicator (KPI) but there must be a way to measure success beyond being driven by passion.  To operationalize this, we will liaise with CO team and consider objective metrics like: number of experiments run, average experiment cycle time, return on failure, number of scaled solutions, number of unusual partners, number of solutions sourced internally and many more.  This will help the team to be action driven and to perfect the innovation toolkit.

iv.  Grit

Following insights shared by the first Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) innovation lab, we are bracing ourselves for a rough ride to continuously challenge our assumptions and iterate as we go.  Bearing in mind the rough terrain in the face of both internal and external uncertainties, we are counting on our insane obsession to make it happen in the innovation space at all costs.

 v.  Extensive Collaboration

We have limited reach as Malawi Acclab team, hence the need to work with a diverse allay of partners within the UNDP global set-up and mainly unexpected actors.  We will leverage skills, experiences, solutions, technologies, relationships, funding and many more to deliver our core business.  As we respond to the changing landscape of global development, we will collaborate more to echo the insights from our colleagues from Ethiopia, the lab is a platform for collaboration and not competition.

We are building relationships with existing UNDP’s extensive network of partners within and outside of Malawi.   We are also interested in bringing unusual partners to the table, as it’s a great opportunity to create a notable impact in development.  We are open for business, please reach out to explore ways of working together