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Institute for Design Innovation research: UNHCR Fellowship Project (Part 2)

15 October 2021

4 mins

UNHCR’s Innovation Service and the Institute for Design Innovation at Loughborough University London have recently undertaken research to examine the Innovation Fellowship Programme. This blog is the second blog in a two-part blog series. Read this article below.

You can read the first blog in this series here.

Illustration by Ailadi

No innovator is an island- creating an innovation capabilities framework

An innovator who ‘gets it’ won’t get far if others don’t get it too. An innovator who is motivated and curious won’t scale further than their desk if they can’t influence their colleagues. A well-positioned innovator stands on little more than a title, if the power of their position can’t be leveraged for the benefit of a team, of a vision.

The Innovation Fellowship Programme, which has been operated by UNHCR’s Innovation Service since 2012, recently collaborated with the University of Loughborough London’s Institute for Design Innovation on a research initiative with the objective of assessing the impact of the Fellowship on its participants. To achieve this, the researchers focused on assessing the participants’ individual perceptions of how the Fellowship, from 2013 to 2018, influenced a range of key innovation capabilities in their day-to-day work. Innovation capabilities are skills that allow an individual or group to innovate. Creating a framework of innovation capabilities for measuring these perceptions was a process that asked questions striking at the very heart of the Fellowship.

A framework under construction

To develop the framework, the project team began with three broad categories of skills: understandingmotivation and positioning. Understanding refers to skills that allow an innovator to understand their environment, the key issues within it, the practical reasons of unpacking a challenge and user needs, and the self-awareness of strengths and weaknesses. Motivation is the capability to engage with the work environment, the curiosity to learn, and the personal drive to collaborate and solve problems. Positioning amounts to the ability to influence the environment, the leadership and role required to implement an innovation, and the tolerance of uncertainty and taking calculated risks. Together, these three categories functioned as a baseline for creating a framework of innovator capabilities.

Except, something was missing. “Who is this superhuman?” remarked Prof. Mikko Koria, Director of the Institute for Design Innovation at Loughborough University London, “We realised that no matter what the capabilities and skills of an individual may be, they are only as useful as their ability to be used in the social environment.” For example, a management style in a team that sees alternative ideas as a threat to management’s authority or to the established way of working could well silence an all-curious, all-creative subordinate. And so, the three categories were wedded to social competences.

Understanding was paired with socialization, attributing equal value to an innovator’s ability to facilitate the understanding of others, raise awareness and negotiate. Motivation found a match in influencing, the capacity to motivate others to take action. While positioning found the social competence of directing, which focuses not on the individual position, but on the ability to direct change and to have the power to impact decision-making. The framework grew to reflect the reality of innovation in an organization such as UNHCR, that no innovator is an island. Navigating the organizational and social structures is as important as the entrepreneurial spirit of any individual.

To read the full article, please visit the UNHCR’s Innovation Services website or you can download the Adobe PDF document below.


To find out more about our Institute for Design Innovation and the Institute’s current research areas, please visit this web page.

You can read more blogs about of our Institute for Design Innovation and these areas of research here.

Our Institute for Design Innovation offer a number of taught and research postgraduate programmes, delivering high quality teaching in collaboration with industry and civil society to address real-life enterprise and social innovation needs.

You can view all of the master’s programmes offered within this Institute here.

To find out more about studying a PhD within our Institute for Design Innovation, please visit this web page.

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