It was my pleasure to be invited by UNDP to a discussion on innovations in governance, accountability and transparency.  I have slightly modified my opening presentation text to include some other discussion points that came up during the workshop. That is the joy of writing one’s own blog posts

A nice system diagramme by Vanessa Herringshaw of T/AI

I’m not a subject expert in this field but, from the work of our colleagues around the world, I know that it is a space in which everything is changing.

I will provide three reasons that innovation (technology, broadly construed, though not technology for its own sake) will play a huge role in governance now, and after 2015.  I will mention two key strategies that have fundamentally changed the discussion of innovation in governance.  I will present three challenges for the next year.

Innovations in blackboarding

First: innovations and technology allow for three fundamentally different maneuvers

1) Brokerage of new relationships: Recent innovations (realtime information, open-source thinking, massive global collaboration, the internet) creates a new set of relationships – no longer bilateral but ones in which the government, private sector, civil society and the citizen are all linked together.

n° 1387 colore
Our group

2) Exponentiality: Exponential trends and growth (the types of things discussed at Singularity University) show us that technology is not merely another tool to reduce transaction costs between citizens and governments, but can fundamentally alter systems.  Project Mwana uses a text message to return HIV/Aids test results in rural Zambia and elsewhere.  This should half the turn-around time (from 66 to 33 days) but it lowers it to 16 days, almost an order of magnitude.  This massive reduction is because creating one efficiency in a network can have multiple, unexpected, knock-on effects.

Inter-connectedness as either clasped hands or razzle dazzle hands

3) South to North:  If we create the environments for innovators to build local innovations, we can  of of development discourse.  We saw policy change in realtime in Uganda recently, because of U-Report returning voices from young people, UNICEF brokering that discussion with the media and parliamentarians, and the MP who had created a piece of legislation changing it in weeks.  mPesa moves money, nationally, in Kenya, over mobile phones.  Our recent talks about Project Mwana at the Mayo Clinic provoked questions of how similar systems design could be replicated or adapted in the United States.

Here are two strategies that will help us understand the potential of change that can occur:

Strategy 1: Lack of Ego: This meeting brings together experts from private sector, government, development and civil society.  For us to solve big problems we will need to understand how issues of governance, transparency and accountability themselves can be integrators both among those fields, and within them.  For us to solve these problems (and any other of the many wonderful, wicked problems we struggle with) we will need to look at our competitors (or “competitors”) and our own egos, and understand that unilateral pressure is not enough to shift massive systems.

Blackboards are amazing

Strategy 2: Open source: We have a lot to learn from the open source community – and I’m not speaking about becoming technologists – though they are the ones who can teach us.  Here is how the open-source community solves problems, and the way we should look at innovations in governance.  Open source communities are participatory, they are merit-based, and equal.  If you are good at making things work, you are part of the community of doers.  That is a type of integration we need.  These communities are focused on tangible outputs – you don’t last long if you’re not producing something real and they have zero genesis or zero pedigree: good problem solvers can come in from nowhere and become full members of the community without worrying about their own provenance.

We will hear about several strains of innovation in governance. There are many countries using realtime information to guide better planning and policy.  Increasingly technology is also providing tools to help government workers do their jobs better (whether at the Minister or frontline worker level).  We know that these technologies and communications advances can also create a different, accelerated advocacy.

Jumping in (Lake Como)

Here are three things that I hope we can get out of these few days

My Goals

1) Let’s adopt a common set of principles around innovation in governance, transparency and accountability

Some Principles

2) Let’s bring together the heads of technical groups (like UNICEF’s innovation labs) who are doing this work in countries, and give them a week to work together.

3) Let’s pick one set of projects, one country, one thing and focus attention on that – run it for 6 months, together, and reduce the burden of ego on each of us, and letting us not have to own our projects alone.

Christopher Fabian

Bellagio, Italy. February, 2013