The UN System Staff College (UNSSC) and IE School of Global and Public Affairs’ Bachelor in International Relations (BIR) Programme have completed their first joint Summer Research Programme on the UN Innovation Toolkit. The programme culminated in a dynamic virtual event on 7 October, where students showcased their research projects and findings.

What did the programme entail?

The programme offered students the opportunity to join the Programme’s research team to analyse the practices of two organizations pursuing innovation in the UN — the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) and a leading innovator in the private sector, Accenture Interactive.

Ten talented IE students were selected to join the UNSSC-led research team to document the UN Innovation Toolkit’s   ability to mainstream innovation in IFAD and UNWTO. Their findings covered key processes and practices that mainstream innovation, facilitate effective transition, and promote the implementation and sustainability of innovation. The programme included a phase of research planning, data collection and analysis and concluded with the submission of five research papers. Their findings will be integrated into the UNSSC’s Innovation by Design Springboard Programme which provides managers and teams with an opportunity to reflect on and better understand the potential for innovation within their own contexts, utilizing insight, practice, and process from the UN Innovation Toolkit. They will also be integrated into modules from UNSSC’s Blueline platform.

The Value of the Summer Research Programme

 “UNSSC has been entrusted by the Secretary-General and the CEB with curating and promoting the UN Innovation Toolkit, including leading capacity-building efforts around it in accordance with UNSSC’s mission as main learning institution for UN staff. We believe that IE students have contributed significantly to meeting the expectations of this special mandate. Thorough research of the work accomplished so far and the new perspectives of youth, this is something that has been missing and it is great to have contributed to fill this gap”, said Miguel Panadero, Senior Manager at UNSSC

UNSSC’s Itziar Arispe, an Evaluation Learning Specialist who is leading the research programme, added that “The UN Innovation Toolkit is a resource intended to help, to stimulate, and to maintain innovation. But it is a living document subject to future improvements or adjustments based on research, analysis and user feedback”.

The UN Innovation Toolkit in IFAD, UNWTO and Accenture

At IFAD, research teams worked with its Change, Delivery and Innovation Unit (CDI) to determined how the UN Innovation Toolkit is being applied in the organization to spur innovation. The projects focused on the UN Innovation Toolkit’s Strategy, Partnerships, Architecture, Culture, and Evaluation “S.P.A.C.E.” framework, which the UN Innovation Toolkit’s design is based on. It is comprised five elements that can help organizations take action to accelerate and scale innovation. IFAD guided three teams as they analysed its innovative practices which involve navigating the Culture, Architecture and Partnerships. Edward Gallagher, Lead Manager of IFAD’s CDI, said about the initiative “IFAD aims to enhance our evidence and science-based decision-making in our work. Initiatives like the Research Programme on the UN Innovation Toolkit builds on this objective to promote the use of systematic tools to navigate the innovation journey.”

At UNWTO, the research team worked closely with its Department of Innovation, Education and Investments to document the use and contextualization of the UN Innovation Toolkit through the SDGs Global Start-up Competition. At Accenture Interactive, members of the research team directed their attention to Accenture’s application and activation of the UN Innovation Toolkit with a specific client. The purpose here was to create a comparative analysis of the UN and private sector on innovation and provide feedback on the Toolkit.

An Engaging Learning Experience

The Summer Research Programme equipped participants with practical skills such as teamwork, research and data analysis, as well as more in-depth knowledge about innovation and the UN system.

Borja Santos Porras, the Executive Director of the BIR programme stated that “Thanks to this experience, our students have been exposed to a unique opportunity to work alongside important UN and private organizations to further promote innovative practices in the professional world. Not to mention the practical benefits such as learning to navigate teamwork with multiple parties, understanding innovation, getting insight into the UN System, improving research and data analysis skills, and many more”.

The Summer Research Programme will continue in the academic year 2021/2022.  UNSSC is looking forward to deepening its engagement with academic partners like IE University, and selected UN agencies to further drive and mainstream innovation.