In the recently concluded Health!Public organized by the Bihar Innovation Lab (BIL) on Aug 22, 2014, an interesting question was posed by the BIL team: Traditionally governments have been lax in adopting new product innovations and incorporating them into their operational systems. What must happen for it to change faster? I will attempt here an answer to this question drawing from my reading and reflection of work done by the Danish management thinker Max Rolfstam.
Government procurement activities are structured for sourcing of products in existence. Innovations by their very nature involve processes that bring into existence products or services, which do not currently exist. These products and processes are brought into being by either a radical departure from existing products or incremental improvement, by synthesizing, according to Schumpeter, new combinations of existing knowledge. According to the European Commission document â€œImplementing the Community Lisbon Programme: More Research and Innovation â€“ Investing for Growth and Employment: A Common Approach. COM 2005:488â€, cited on page 5: the public procurement of innovation is the purchase of goods and services that do not exist, or need to be improved and hence require research and innovation to meet specific user needs.
How does one catalyse a public procurement of innovation mechanism for the Bihar governance system? It would take focusing on two cycles: a commissioning cycle and procurement cycle. In the pre-procurement phase we would need health system design rules for engaging in scanning of markets and emerging technologies or matching making events, like Ennoventâ€™s Discover Challenges, where solutions can be connected to expertise in project management and fund raising. In the procurement cycle we would need design rules for writing up specifications in a call for tender that would allow an organization to suggest an innovative product solution not initially known by the Bihar Government procurer. To achieve this, we would need discourses between Government procurers and user centred design teams in what Stefan Thomke calls â€œprojects as experimentationâ€ vehicles. A project as experimentation vehicle, in this case, would involve a number of small product design projects that have public-private partnerships set up for execution of the product design idea, within the rubric of a specific public health impact programming category or theme.
In future blogs I will attempt answering some of the other thought provoking innovation procurement questions posed by the talented BIL team.