Live Blog: What is Civic Innovation?


Following a morning of welcomes by Namrata Mehta and Opening Remarks by Delhi Dialogue Commission’s Namit Arora, the first panel of the sixth annual Design Public will explore how public service delivery need to change in light of rapidly changing ways of connecting, working and living. Panelists include Diastika Rahwidiati, Pavan Srinath, and Sriganesh Lokanathan; the panel will be moderated by Aditya Dev Sood.

10:05am: Aditya Dev Sood welcomes the panel on the stage and then invites panelists to introduce themselves, where they are from, and how they connect with the concept of innovation.

10:09am: Sriganesh Lokanathan works in Big Data Research at LIRNEasia, a think tank who does research for civic solutions. Much of their work occurs privately, but they are beginning to consider how to engage the public and how their internal research can benefit the public.

10:10am: Diastika Rahwidiati is from Indonesia working at the Pulse Lab Jakarta. The civic and urban problems in India discussed by Namit Arora are not far off from what Indonesia grapples with and aims to solve. The Pulse Lab Jakarta is tapping into the technology that already exists and harnessing this tech activity, the Lab turns it into information for decision-making, health and social issues, and citizen empowerment.

10:13am: Pavan Srinath comes form the Takshashila Institution in Bangalore, a think tank and public policy institute. Many of the solutions for Bangalore’s problems are political as well as social; Takshashila aims to bridge these two by providing training in urban governance, policy research, and convening urban leaders.

10:16am: Aditya is struck by the concept that the term “civic” can be interpreted in multiple ways. Can the panelists unpack this term “civic”?

10:18am: Pavan offers that he interprets “civic” in four ways: internal department activities; people innovating to improve government; society deciding to create their own solutions; and private sector stepping in with new solutions. Diastika believes “civic” is mostly related to when citizens innovate and try to solve their own problems, which has created a new form of social activism. Sriganesh views “civic” in terms of Sri Lanka, where the society is in the early stages of bringing people together for hack-a-thons to solve problems. This structure has worked initially, but he is interested in seeing how to create a sustainable and lasting mechanism to allow these conversations to foster.

10:23am: Aditya summarizes the panelists’ answers and observes that there is a real appetite for action, not just dialogue. Sriganesh agrees that this is the case. He believes that these hack-a-thons are a recent trend in Sri Lanka, but may be a passing fad if there is not movement toward action steps to implement solutions and build relationships. Diastika wonders is the hack-a-thon culture has flourished because of convenience in scheduling and, in Indonesia’s case, due to a rise of a middle class that has free time to take notice of the social environment and needs. Pavan believes that it is similar in India where the growing middle class has the opportunity to spend time and income on these social concerns.

10:29am: Aditya asks the panelist what they believe their role of government should be in civic innovation and at a forum like Design Public. Pavan believes that government has a role, but it is hard to do innovation within government. Examples of innovation within government are the exception not the rule; it is up to citizens and the private sector to look for opportunities to innovate.

10:31am: Diastika thinks that the incentive for government is to watch what the innovation field is doing and testing out new solutions. It is up to the innovation field to then take those successful solutions to the government. A forum like this is not diminished if government is not present, because it is up to us what we do after a forum like Design Public.

10:34am: Aditya brings up the role of government as society and civic innovation grows; in age of networks and big data, will the role of government decline?

10:35am: Diastika believes that there is a need to effectively combine the algorithmic data while empathizing with the people that need to make sense of that data. Sriganesh mentions that our problems begin to evolve and our perspective changes.  He believes that we must continuously remember that big data needs to be continuously kept in context of the problem.

10:41am: Aditya shifts the panel from the formal dialogue and invites the audience to pose questions for the panelists.

10:45am: Pavan addresses the first audience question about governments’ pricing services and goods, and he believes that competition is the best method since government is not best at this. For immigrants or visitors new to a city, this pricing method can be a struggle but Sriganesh mentions that the advantage of competition is that is encourages improvements.

10:48am: The second question was about the need for intermediaries between urban and rural civic innovation solutions. Empathy immersion is something that Diastika advocates for so the needs of the beneficiaries are present when designing solutions. It is much more important to give people tools to solve their own solutions to ensure the solution is accessible and sustainable.

10:53am: Aditya asks Pavan and Sriganesh what they think civic innovation should be or should do. Sriganesh is interested in seeing what will happen in Sri Lanka regarding civic innovation as it grows and evolves. Pavan believes it is about bridging the governance system and where society is; the only way to bridge that is in innovative ways.

10:56am: Aditya summarizes the panel and comments about how civic innovation has emerged and been created over the past decade. There is a need to find the institutional complement of civic innovation to leverage solutions. The goal of Design Public is to identify what the scope of work should be to move forward in this space, and how the Vihara Innovation Network can work to support civic tech and innovation startups.

Follow along and join in on the conversations happening at Design Public today here on the blog or by following us on Twitter and Facebook.

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