Preparing the right organisational environment for digital innovation

Traditionally, a number of non-profits have designed digital innovations for realisation of developmental goals. Covid-19 has brought a new wave of energy for investing in digital innovations. For some non-profit organisations, the move towards digital innovations is a significant shift from the usual. For this transition to work there is need to create a right environment within the organisation for the full benefits of digital innovation to be realised.

Below are some ideas for preparing the right organisational environment for digital innovation to thrive.

Formalise it – Innovations can happen daily and in an ad hoc manner. During the lock down many non-profits could not conduct face to face activities and had to rely on digital communication platforms to either interact with stakeholders or disseminate information. Whilst it was “reaction” to an occurrence, innovation needs to part of the organisation’s DNA. There must be inclusion of innovation within your strategy, a digital innovation plan or procedures. Innovation should be included in how you measure performance of your organisation.

Motivate – Everyone within the organisation has the potential to identify digital innovation opportunities and ideas. Motivating staff within the organisation begins with opening up the space for everyone to contribute towards digital innovation thinking and design processes. If staff feels this is only the role of management, they will shy away from contributing ideas. Open spaces for sharing of ideas and brainstorming are a good starting point, coupled with the confidence that any idea will be looked at based on its merit and not the staff member sharing it. Innovation can be integrated in how staff performance is assessed. This includes inclusion in Key Result Areas, contracts and staff appraisals. Incentives can also be given to staff that share and pursue viable ideas.

Invest in knowledge – Knowledge about digital innovation is the first priority resource. Some organisations have managed to raise resources to employ a full time technology and innovation expert. However, not all have the resources to recruit a full time expert. Knowledge can be generated through technical advice via experts, and capacity building of staff on digital innovation (Even MOOC’s have low cost courses i.e. Coursera). It is important to join communities of practice; online platforms and emerging ICT4D forums / conferences to get the latest information and exchange ideas.

Think long term – Launching a digital technology is only one part of the puzzle, sustaining the technology is the key ball game. All efforts towards digital innovation must have a clear picture of the future thinking. This means creating the environment for long term decision making and allocation of resources. Short lived innovations might not reflect the most effective use of resources.

Allow for learning, mistakes and re-adjustment – The integration of digital technology relies on a process of idea generation, testing and scale up. Conceptualisation, planning and budgeting processes will thus need to allow for the process of learning, identifying mistakes and re-adjustment. At times, the results may not go the way you expect. There is need for an organisational culture that allows for learning to be fun and permissible without blaming staff for any results that may not go according to plan.

Finally go for it, and happy innovating. . .

Source: Percy Ngwerume*

*Percy Ngwerume is a Tech Enthusiast and OD practitioner