A challenge of ideas

Girls in Delhi participate in an IDEO.org activity to map safe and unsafe spaces in their communities. Photo by: IDEO.org/Shauna Carey

You’ve come up with what you think is a great idea to solve a development problem. Are you willing to share it publicly, allow people to comment and a group with sufficient implementing capacity to bring it to life?

IDEO.org is banking on that willingness to collaborate to turn innovative ideas into reality that help to ensure the safety of women and girls in urban settings as part of the first in a series of 10 challenges under an initiative supported by the U.K. Department for International Development.

The five-year program, called Amplify, is different from most grant challenges which, typically, encourage competitors to keep a proprietary lid on their proposed solutions.

With Amplify, ideas, first and foremost, win funding.

“We’re not necessarily awarding people for their ideas; taking ideas to action is what we’re most interested in,” Shauna Carey, communications specialist for Amplify, told Devex.

The goal, then, is to find the best team that can implement the idea.

For Amplify, collaboration takes place in several stages.

Online, that comes in the form of commenting on proposed ideas to help authors refine them. The ideas are submitted to OpenIDEO, a platform that hosts global development innovation challenges and is designed to encourage feedback on every phase of the problem-solving process.

There is also an offline component to this collaboration. Through convenings, IDEO.org hopes to engage field implementers — who have been largely absent from its online network of 55,000 people — in the process.

The nonprofit arm of IDEO, a San Francisco-based design firm, is also keen to involve members of beneficiary communities. This is rooted in the human-centered design approach that IDEO.org is known for.

“As human-centered designers, at core, we start with members of the community” when we develop solutions, Sean Hewens, who leads the Amplify program, told Devex.

In the case of the first Amplify challenge, Hewens said his team is looking at, for instance, how to get the views of a 14-year-old girl living in a slum in Delhi, India. One way to make this happen: use a toll-free-number that people can call on their cellphones so they can listen and comment to some of the proposed ideas posted on the OpenIDEO platform.

Hewens and Carey both clarified that Amplify is not only interested in new ideas but also in existing ones that work well and are considered innovative themselves which merit scaling up. And that’s part of the reason they seek participation from implementing organizations.

“So the question for them is … if you have collaboration help, if you have funding from DfID, if you have design support from IDEO.org, how can we take that idea that you have now and improve it to make it that much better?” said Hewens.

So far, the first challenge has drawn nearly 300 ideas. The submission period closes April 30. A short list of potential recipients of support — whether a portion of the $500,000 pot or up to 14 weeks of IDEO.org human-centered design assistance — will be known May 28 and the roster of winning ideas July 15..

IDEO.org will launch the second Amplify challenge in the summer of 2014, according to Hewens.

What do you think of this innovative solution? Tell us by leaving a comment below and read our previous #innov8aid.

About the author

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    Ma. Eliza Villarino

    Currently based in New York City, Eliza is a veteran journalist focused on covering the most pressing issues and latest innovations in global health, humanitarian aid, sustainability and development. A member of Mensa, Eliza has earned a master's degree in public affairs and bachelor's degree in political science from the University of the Philippines.