Reimagining Rural Innovation (Part 1)

We finally launched the Bihar Innovation Lab (B.I.L.) at Design Public III; I must admit it has been a long and worthy wait. We’d taken the first step towards improving maternal and child healthcare with the creation of this lab. We now wanted to take the leap towards improving holistic rural healthcare in Bihar and to this end dedicated a breakout to Reimagining Rural Innovation. This session hoped to explore how this model can be extrapolated to effectively address meta-healthcare challenges as well as understand how it can be applied in other areas of rural development.

Discussants for this breakout session included representatives from the Government of Bihar, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and its healthcare grantees, as well as experts from various rural development domains ranging from energy, finance, telecom, livelihoods, education and cultural preservation.

We analysed the B.I.L. model in order to define new focus areas, functions and processes that the lab will need in order to achieve impactful innovation. Specialists in non-healthcare sectors debated the relevance of the model to other rural development challenges and imagined new roles that the lab could play. Five concrete focus areas emerged as key suggestions that could be considered for uptake by the B.I.L. The first has been described below, and the remaining will follow in subsequent posts.

Health-goals directly guiding Innovations

Sanjay Kumar, Executive Director of the State Health Society of Bihar, highlighted the critical importance of aligning ‘innovation decisions’ with the health-goals of the state. While the state develops strategies, there is currently no structured mechanism of defining what innovation path might lead to achieving the health-goals within the stipulated deadline. Sanjay put forth the case-in point for Bihar, which has a mandate (by the MDGs) to reduce under-five mortality rates to under 27% by 2015. Starting 2012, Bihar recorded a significant decline in the infant mortality rate (IMR) from 56 to 52 due to the state’s consistent efforts; but a radical reduction from 52 to 27 will require much more targeted intervention. A routinized innovation approach can successfully steer the development of state strategies to this end.

A more systematic mapping and analysis of meta-challenges and on-ground failures must be done in order to prioritize critical challenges that need to be addressed in order for the health-goals to be met. Subsequent to this, high-impact innovations can be imagined in systematic alignment with these challenges.

In order to have this targeted impact, discussants agreed that a model like the Bihar Innovation Lab or any such model for another state must review the health goals of the state and work in close alignment with them. This new element immensely increases the scope and impact the lab can have; we are eager to explore it along with the Bihar State Health Society and the Gates Foundation.

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