Innovation in Context

Innovation in Context

Given my instinctive cringe whenever I hear the term "innovation" these days, the word may a wee bit overused. However, it the concept remains as important as ever - if organizations aren't trying new things, they're stagnating.

As a global organization working with partners in a lot of different country contexts, though, I sometimes have to check myself and remember that innovation lives in local contexts. NDI's supported scores of sophisticated election monitoring missions across the world using the Partial Vote Tabulation system, including most recently in Kenya. The methodology's a tried and true one - I'll write it up soon - and has been used for over a decade. From a global perspective, it ain't new.

In Tunisia, however, it's a massive step. (No, not this kind of step.)

Given their shiny new democracy and the fact they've only had one real fair election in generations, any form of election monitoring is new. Moving to one that requires thousands of citizens across the country to work in concert with an extraordinary degree of accuracy is a big deal.

Similarly, we have spent a lot of time salivating over the amazing technology that the Obama campaign put together. That stuff was innovative in every sense of the word. However, in a different context, simply helping a political party work with structured information is a great leap forward. (no, not that leap.)

In Tunisia, we're also working with political parties both in and out of government to help them think about how to organize their data on members and voters, and how to communicate effectively with them. For many parties, a simple spreadsheet enables sophisticated organizing techniques that are simply impossible otherwise.

For legislatures, just getting some information into the public domain is progress. My favorite story from my time at NDI is on the effective use of printed Excel spreadsheets in a glass display to let the citizens of Liberia see the progress of legislation. Important incremental progress even if not a giant step (nope, you're thinking of this other thing) for the legislature.

It's important for us all in the technology space to be pushing the envelope globally to blaze new trails that can be followed by others. It's always in a context, though, so take pride in local innovations that effectively improve the lives of others, even if not earth-shattering. (And no, you don't want this kind anyway.)