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Generating new ideas to tackle challenges faced by host communities and refugees

Janine Civitate

Innovation Facility/Community Management Coordinator



Now entering its fifth year, the Syrian crisis is characterised by progressive complexity and uncertainty for Syria as well as its neighboring countries.

It has become increasingly apparent that in order to design and implement innovative responses to the growing difficulties faced by Syrian refugees and their host communities, humanitarian agencies and development organisations urgently need to join forces and combine their complementary skills and expertise.

In response to this, the UNDP Sub-Regional Response Facility to the Syria Crisis hosted a two-day innovation jam on 17 & 18 November 2014 in Amman, Jordan, with financial and technical support from UNDP’s global Innovation Facility. Colleagues from UNDP Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Turkey joined together to design creative solutions to address challenges faced by host communities and refugees. They were also joined by colleagues and innovation experts from UNDP’s Innovation Facility, UNDP Armenia’s Kolba Labs, UNDP Sudan, UNDP DR Congo and Nesta.



The objective of this session was to come up with original ideas to improve livelihoods of host communities and refugees, and then to select solutions to prototype and test.



To kick off the jam, UNDP Country Office teams presented their biggest challenges, from employment to solid waste management and security.



The participants split into five groups. Four of the groups were divided by country in order to explore an issue specific to their context, and one group combined colleagues from two countries both facing issues of solid waste management.




Why we used the tools

To facilitate the design thinking process around these issues, four tools from the DIY toolkit underpinned the workshop: Problem Definition, Fast Idea Generator, Business Model Canvas and the Critical Task List. The tools were used to help the participants:


  1. Think about their country-specific issues in different ways.
  2. Come up with ‘out-of-the-box’ solutions their offices hadn’t tried yet.
  3. Plan a roadmap of who they would contact to get the initiative off the ground and when.
  4. Identify ‘unusual suspects’ they could involve along the way.


How we used the tools

The first day focused on problem definition and idea generation. At the end of the day, participants briefly presented their ideas to the group for rapid feedback and iteration.

On the second day participants dove deeper into the creative ideas generated during the previous day, using the Business Model Canvas and Critical Tasks List to map out action plans to advance their ideas for implementation. The working groups captured the main ideas of their proposed initiatives and presented back to the participants and facilitators.


Results of using the tools

Many new and unconventional ideas were generated during the jam. Ideas included:


  • ‘Minutes for Work’: rethinking currency to create a mobile minutes bank from UNDP Syria
  • ‘One Stop Shop for Jobs’: a community-based online platform for employment from UNDP Egypt
  • ‘Women’s Enterprise for social economic empowerment (WE SEE)’: fostering income generating opportunities for women from UNDP Iraq
  • ‘Don’t waste your waste’: providing lucrative solutions to solid waste management in camps and host communities, a collaborative effort from UNDP Jordan and UNDP Turkey
  • ‘Crowdsourcing for rapid labor employment’: from UNDP Lebanon


The organisers have committed to providing continued support through collaboration with the teams as they validate their assumptions, engage with the end-users of their various ideas, and prototype their initiatives.




Feedback on the individual tools

Problem Definition

Value of the tool: Overall, this tool assisted the participants to think differently about their issue by examining it from a variety of angles.

Limitation of the tool: In general, there was a common recommendation from participants to add more guidance on how to go through the exercise. At the innovation jam, it helped to have Brenton Caffin, Director of Innovation Skills at Nesta, there to guide people through the exercises.


Fast Idea Generator

Value of the tool: Although difficult to get through, parts of the tool helped users to expand their understanding of the issue and come up with ‘out-of-the-box’ ideas, even though many of them may not have been applicable in real life. Brenton, who led the exercise, commented that the tool was not about finding a solution, but expanding the way we think. We need to evaluate and challenge our ‘business as usual’ approach and come up how we might invert the way we do things.

Limitation of the tool: Participants found that if their problem statement was too broad, the exercise didn’t work. Groups had to keep making sure they were working with specific statements instead of trying to solve larger problems (which did have benefits in the overall process).


Business Model Canvas

Value of the tool: This tool was helpful for participants to think about/explore areas they wouldn’t necessarily detect right away when looking at the big picture. They were able to identify possible key resources, distribution channels and motivation of partners from the start, which would help in designing project proposals and in implementation.

Limitation of the tool: This exercise was relatively straightforward. Suggestion to add a section on nontraditional partners to prompt participants to think further outside the box when mapping key partners.


Critical Tasks List

Value of the tool: This tool helped participants to figure out between them what the five most important next steps were. It assisted in realistically mapping a timeline of implementation and the chronological order of action items. It also supported the groups to brainstorm which element could be funded by which source.

Limitation of the tool: Suggestion to add guidance on how far into the planning/implementation process this exercise should take participants, and to clarify each column with further explanation.


Final thoughts

Overall the participants found that the tools helped them think more openly and creatively than they would normally about on the ground issues, and that the tools prompted a real participatory approach to designing interventions.

As an improvement, they all suggested providing some kind of facilitation guide that would assist in ease of use and effectiveness of outcomes. In this guidance, participants felt it would be good to have suggestions on which tools would be the most appropriate fit for which situations, the pros and cons of each tool, examples on how to use them, the best tools to use directly with end-users and issues to keep in mind when using them.

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  1. Harsh Patel


    Nice idea