Design!publiC Panel Discussion 2: Is Innovation in Public and Social Sectors Possible?

12:03 Harsh: Theoretically, there is an independent advisory body to the government called the Planning Commission. But once we’ve heard everyone, and money is given, there is still the question of how that money is being spent.

12:01 Sneha: What is the process for this prioritization?

11:59 Harsh: We would like to incorporate more transparent processes in policy redesign. We have tried this – online, on social networks and otherwise – but often it comes down to resources. And where do you spend the resources you have? Health, roads, transport? Prioritization needs to happen.

11:57 Ashwin: Just because we give money, we don’t have the right to tell people that they are wrong and that we should accept our way. A basic human freedom that we have is the right to make mistakes, because that is how we learn.

11:56 Sneha: The approach, most often, do not look at the larger systems of policy implementation. It’s not just a matter of policy, but the ability to look at the larger problems with implementation – for example the lack of knowledge of certain ways of thinking – and to collaborate in this process.

11:54 Rohini: How can we creative more participative process within design itself? Many examples in my work, including Pratham books.

11:51 Ashwin: There’s a general perception that government doesn’t listen to us. My perception is that not enough people are actually trying to be heard. You have to first ask and answer another question: is public space about contestation or consensus? The political space is contestational. But we would ideally like that governmental space to be not contestational, but rather we want consensus.

11:48 Question: can we translate some of these issues into a more visual medium? Can we make some of these problems more visible?

11:47 Aditya Sood: Is there a scope for using design approaches for policy redesign?

11:45 Rohini: Risk-taking is a necessary part of any innovation or policy or service redesign.

11:43 Ashwin: Even to do good things in the public sector, you have to mimic some of the commercial processes. The problem is that nitty-gritties are what determine the changes in the public sector.

11:42 Question to the panel: can something be done to regulate policy for better public-private partnerships?

11:40 Ashwin: Unless you have face time with the right people to make your solutions happen, it won’t take off. And that doesn’t just involve having a good solution..

11:38 Sneha: CKS’ work is about an unbiased approach to first understand the situation, and then we may or may not actually be involved in creating solutions.

11:33 Rohini: Pratham books was set up as a social enterprise. It came to involve philanthropy, design, education — all of these things. People buy them, but also many kids get them for free. We have a wide network of volunteers – writers, illustrators, translators, funders. Collaboration at its best?

11:31 Rohini to Ashwin: What I might want in my street may be different from what I want in my nation, and sometimes I may not be able to tell the difference between the two.

11:29 Ashwin: The real problem is that people do not want to do the solutioning themselves – they expect the government to do this. The lesson we can learn from many countries in the west is that government allows the people to make and implement their own solutions. Here in India, the government is afraid of the people.

11:27 Harsh: Loads of research happens, especially when it funded by international agencies and so forth. But the real question is: what comes after this?

11:24 Mahesh Murthy asks if academia often refuses to consider points of interests of different groups, and disallows these points of view.

11:23 Rohini Nilekani: there are many interest groups and often each one thinks that only their interests matter. We have to be able to compromise, yes?

11:21 Sunil asks Ashwin: Sometimes people use words like participation and collaboration, but often this amounts to tokenism. What do make of this?

11:20 Sneha gives an example of CKS’ work in Maternal and Child Healthcare to show how these public-private partnerships can be aligned better towards the larger public interest.

11:17 Harsh: My way of protecting Bangalore’s reputation as the hub for innovation in India is to encourage more competition so that Bangalore has to get even better.

11:16 Rohini Nilekani talks about how we all need to work collaboratively towards the public interest. We need to innovate and design checks and balances to curb the power imbalances.

11:13 Sunil Abraham asks Rohini Nilekani: Competence and innovation doesn’t exist solely within government. Since increasingly there are more public-private partnerships, how can these collaborations yield innovations?

11:11 Ashwin Mahesh: What is our capacity to make change, and where does that capacity come from? We might say it should come from a knowledge society, but the truth is that simply having knowledge may not actually yield innovation.

11:10 Ashwin Mahesh: We used to have excellent mousetraps, called Cats.

11:09 Ashwin Mahesh says these words sometimes don’t mean anything – he does what he does, and if it is innovation, great, but if it isn’t, it isn’t.

11:07 Asks Ashwin Mahesh about some thing that emerged from Design Public 1: someone said there that the government is not meant to innovate. What can you say about that now?

11:04 Session starts with Sunil Abraham talking about the Spice mobile, similar to a Blackberry, but far cheaper. Has a variety of features, and is made in a Chinese company somewhere in China. Claims that he, for one, is not grieving for Steve Jobs, because these companies and factories in China continue to exist.

At the Sankalp Forum earlier in the year there was a panel on social venturing which ended with a bit of uncertainty regarding what kinds of projects were social in nature, versus those which were merely plain-vanilla capitalist ventures. How can one make and maintain such a distinction? Does one have to build a start-up to be a Social Innovator? To what extent do social ventures use design or structured innovation processes to decide what to do? Is that the next stage?

This panel is being chaired by Sunil Abraham of the Center for Internet and Society, who is in conversation with Rohini Nilekani of Arghyam and Pratham, Ashwin Mahesh of Mapunity and Harsh Shrivstava of the National Planning Commission. Sneha Raman of the Center for Knowledge Societies is the respondent, bringing knowledge of how design processes can create new kinds of value and generate more effective interventions in Public and Social Sector Projects.

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