Many recent conversations, exploring the relationship between Trust, Participation, and Innovation in light of our upcoming Design Public conclave, have been emphasizing the need to build an inclusive culture of innovation. “Inclusion” has become the new buzz word as India progresses from a knowledge economy to an innovation economy. As I begin to think more deeply about the relationship between inclusion and innovation, it becomes significant to understand who are we including? More importantly, what exactly do we mean by inclusion? For only when we deliberate on its various attributes, it would be possible to design appropriate platforms that would promote an ‘inclusive’ culture of innovation in India.
Public private partnerships have emerged as one of the predominant ways of including non-state organizations to address challenges in the sectors, which were traditionally considered the domain of the Indian State. Value of these partnerships has become evident through various case examples, such as the UID project and the Health Insurance Scheme for children by the Naandi Foundation, Hyderabad. Privatization is perceived to bring in greater efficiency and out of the box solutions that surpass mediocrity and feet-dragging, commonly associated with government functioning. However, many of these solutions may be difficult, if not impossible, to implement if the State is not directly involved. The State cannot be excluded if we truly hope to transform India into an innovation economy. More active collaboration between the State and private players is required to allow for collective decision making, greater ownership of solutions by the State, as well as faster implementation. Inculcating an understanding and value of the innovation processes in the members of the government would also help promote the culture at a much larger scale.
Though effective public private collaboration would help create a robust culture of innovation, a third spoke needs to be added to this wheel of innovation, the citizens themselves, if we are really hope to promote an inclusive culture. The nexus between the private and public may not always be for greater social good or align with the most pressing needs of citizens. Involving civil society in the participatory innovation process may also help address the fundamental problem of accountability in both private and state led initiatives.
Much has been said about the value of civil society participation for fostering more trust. Involving citizens in the innovation process would also lead to more meaningful and impactful solutions. For a developing country like India, where a large percentage of population is dealing with grand challenges such as access to healthcare, education, and financial services, fostering an innovation culture holds different meanings than for the developed nations of the world. A critical question would be – are we innovating the right set of products, services or other solutions? And who decides what is right? It would be best if we leave this decision to the citizens themselves as they have become more aware and vocal about their needs and choices, evident from the content shared in online and other real time platforms. While awareness levels can vary for citizens based on their different backgrounds, they are still better placed to bring attention to the issues that may go unnoticed otherwise. They may also be in the best position to illuminate to the thinkers and ‘innovators’ of the country that “one size does not fit all”when it comes to addressing their needs.
In order to acquire these critical inputs from the members of the civil society, it seems viable to use technology to build such collaborative platforms considering the increasing number of people who have access to technology in India, albeit different forms. The culture of sharing through technological platforms has also become immensely popular in India, with various kinds of information being shared with a wider audience at a much faster speed. These platforms also allow user feedback which helps modify content in ways that result in new meanings of participation. While technology may not be the solution to every innovation challenge, it can certainly be leveraged to create platforms that allow for effective civil society participation. For these technological platforms to meet their intended purpose though, the design process must begin by identifying the essential attributes of ‘inclusion.’
If we truly aspire to build a more inclusive culture of innovation, we need to ensure that the civil society in India is represented in all its heterogeneity. Though social media platforms have been extensively used by Indian citizens in the recent past to share opinions, they may not be the most appropriate channels as they are not within reach of all. We would need platform/s, accessible by various socio-economic classes from different parts of the country, even if it means designing a single platform with multiple access points or different platforms from which information can be aggregated.
Besides providing an equal opportunity to offer feedback, a bigger challenge to think about would be designing a platform that will allow users to ensure that the proposed innovations are optimally designed to address their challenges. Building such a platform, may also eventually lead to greater accountability on the part of public and private players.
When it comes to designing this collaborative platform, seemingly inconsequential, yet significant issues, such as the level of transparency it allows may also need to be deliberated upon. A transparent platform can motivate more users to get involved by observing enthusiasm of others and being assured that their opinions will be preserved in their integrity. At the same time, certain user groups might be hesitant from more honestly sharing their viewpoints on a platform that is completely open and transparent.
As a society, we can take a step forward towards becoming an innovation economy only if we create a more inclusive culture of innovation, but more importantly, we need to consciously think about what the fundamentals of this inclusive culture can or should be?