Unleashing Innovation Potential with ICT4D

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[Read more session reports and live updates from the WSIS Forum 2016.]

Mr Joseph Gaylord (ITU) opened the session by providing a brief overview and highlighted the key emphasis on allowing entrepreneurs to do good while doing well.

Mr Anir Chowdhury (Prime Minister Office, Bangladesh)  explained the Bangladesh government’s Access to Innovation programme that coordinates digitisation efforts across the country. Ms Ines Knaepper (Project Manager The PORT Association)described The PORT’s work in organising events and managing various projects involving participants from a range of countries. Ms Lise Tcheng (Snr VP Digital Transformation, Telecommunications SAP) spoke about SAP using ICT for sustainable life.  Ms Ribeca Moreno Jimenez (UNHCR Innovation Lab Manager) described the guidance UNHCCR provides in processing information for innovation.

Gaylord asked the panel to highlight one landmark activity. Jimenez described a public-private partnership with the UPS Foundation. Tcheng described SAP’s Africa Code Week project in 17 countries teaching 88,000 kids and 7000 teachers. Knaepper’s example was an inflatable fridge project which led to a working prototype for a body bag innovation. Chodhury recalled a series of debates distilling innovation as time, costs, and number of visits for government services.

Gaylord queried the social benefit from innovation.  Knaepper emphasised the requirement to listen to the needs of the stakeholders. She indicated that the knowledge owner must see the technology value. In Chowdhury’s experience technologists do not know the problem and problem owners do not know the technology and think it unsolvable. He used mid-level managers with enough problem knowledge and dispatched persons across industries to give a critical analysis of the issues. They returned to their offices and innovated with a new critical eye. Gaylord next turned to setting the agenda. Tcheng indicated that everyone is involved in setting the agenda and Jimenez showed that no one sector has all information. Chodhury stressed always seeking a champion to lead the problem solution. Knaepper agreed with this approach and showed the benefits of diverse teams. This led Gaylord to focus on the key methods. Knaepper described the hackathon approach and Tcheng underscored not expecting others to innovate for you. Jimenez views the process as having greater focus than the technology.

Chowdhury’s experience showed that hackathons have had less success with approximately 20% of participants doing something useful and 5% doing something transformational. A new Solvathon approach disseminates the idea at the district level directly involving problem owners. Tcheng described a SAP university alliance and Gaylord explained the ITU’s Ideation Development Toolkit.
Gaylord next asked about the balance between technologies and methodologies. To Chowdhury, process is more important and technology must support the process. In Tcheng’s view, ‘if things are not mobile they are not, and there is power in everyone having a smartphone.

Knaepper described the unique perspective in The PORT being hosted at CERN deriving a lot of inspiration in future invention giving The PORT sight of immediate and future solutions. For Jimenez, a chicken-and-egg situation exists where sometimes the same solution exists within another unit or in a similar organisation. This led to Gaylord’s next question on preventing solutionism and stopping redundant solutions.

For Knaepper, there is a need to work with field owners and not overcomplicate. Jimenez strives to never reinvent the wheel. They examine other sectors looking for already existing partial solutions and think first on the low-tech solution.

How do these innovation processes create a systemic change in institutions? For Chowdhury, tolerance for failure is the first thing that happens as confidence increases over time. Jimenez described product innovation as simple and something tangible with systemic change following a policy change.

Some of the audience questions dealt with monitoring idea implementation between these forum discussions and facilitating participation in the different regions. Panellists identified the need for local champions to incubate solutions and work with social entrepreneurs, mapping out different actors with the aim of connecting them.

Knaepper expressed interest in franchising The PORT’s methodology and Chodhury spoke about building innovator capacity by holding writing and coaching clinics. The last question focused on ensuring year round discussions and the panellists promised to make all referenced materials available to the ITU and highlighted the various types of available events.

by Andre Edwards

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