Conconzeptualizing an idea management system for médicins sans frontières (MSF)

Wintersemester 2011/12 

Executive Summary 

Great ideas are born within MSF* every day. 

How can this innovative potential be managed?

MSFers from all over the world have great ideas and innovative suggestions on how to do an even better job on a daily basis. Unfortunately, most ideas never reach the implementation phase. 

The overall objective of the project thus was to implement a system that helps that promising ideas and innovative suggestions arising by employees, volunteers and members of MSF (primarily those in the ield) are used to improve MSF’s solutions for both medical and non-medical problems. 

Even though the idea submission process is very important, this project is not only about gathering suggestions from MSFers. It is about creating a holistic idea management system that bears innovative fruit. It has to create an innovation-friendly organizational culture, in which employees and volunteers of MSF are motivated to contribute their ideas, to select the most promising ideas, and to implement them. 

Four questions emerged right from the beginning: 

- How can the willingness of ield workers to submit their ideas be optimized?
- How can inner-organizational support to implement such a system be achieved?

- How can be assured that (only) promising ideas are pursued after they have been submitted?
- How can ideas travel both up and down the information channels?  

Methodological approach 

The project team’s approach to answering these four central questions was inspired by Chesbrough’s relexive relationship between internal and external lows affecting open innovation. 

MSF research reports on innovation, a rigorous analysis of MSF’s organizational structure together with the project partner, an expert survey including 65 MSFers (conducted online due to the fact that they were scattered all over the world) allowed for an internal perspective. Additionally, the lecture of according literature (focussing on innovation management in NPOs and open innovation), other surveys with 25 external experts, 5 interviews examining the approach toward innovation in comparable NPOs, and a number of case studies exploring for-proit solutions added an external perspective. 

Evaluating different scenarios 

The indings from the research phase (especially owing to a surprisingly high response rate of around 45% in the expert survey) proved to be highly valuable.

First and foremost, it became clear that there are seven different choices to make: 

  • the medium (e.g. Internet or on paper),

  • the arrangement of the idea submission (e.g. at random or by answering a question posed by the headquarter),

  • the mode of evaluation (e.g. via an expert committee or by a crowd),

  • the innovation culture (are there e.g. regular MSF innovation days?),

  • the degree of cooperation (e.g. with corporate actors or former MS Fers),

  • finance (can one donate an idea?)

  • and rights (creative commons vs. conservative terms and conditions). 

The final recommendation was based on six criteria (visibility, complexity, openness, structural independence, flexibility, resistance to implementation) mainly drawn from best-practice cases and MSF’s organizational culture, which differs greatly from traditional companies. By evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of four ideal scenarios (national staff idea generator, internal idea management system, lean public submission tool, open innovation machine), the project team concluded on one possible system that combines all strengths. 

It incorporates a public internet platform with two variably demanding interfaces (depending on the connection strength), the possibility to ask for ideas in certain areas, an open review process, and creative commons licences. Additionally, several recommendations concerning the creation of an innovation culture within MSF were made.

Cooperation Partner

  • Médicins sans Frontières
    (Ärzte ohne Grenzen)
    Taborstrasse 10
    1020 Wien

  • Contact Person
    Andreas Papp
    Edith Rogenhofer, MSc
    Tel.: +43 (1) 409 72 76

Student Team

  • Christof Brandtner 
    Matthias Gerbavsits
    Katharina Schermann