Learning from others’ experience
True citizen expansion implies enriching the elements that lead to a rational synthesis generated by both technical and non-technical knowledge. For instance, the Brazilian platform CidadeDemocrática is an example of collective participation that takes advantage of the network and turns citizen demands into primary sources of information and solution to problems.
Another model worth mentioning is that of La Colaboradora in the city government of Zaragoza, Spain: a physical space of collective intelligence where a collaborative community of technicians, designers, creators and entrepreneurs creates projects for social challenges which are defined in a collaborative way. Run on the basis of a peer-to-peer, sharing philosophy and human contact, they are making truly significant progress.
Another experience in deliberative democracy is that of the Citizen Trials in Uruguay, the only country in Latin America that has so far managed to implement the “consensus conferences” designed and created by the Danish Committee for Technology, an independent parliamentary advisory body. This deliberative process, which deals with sensitive and controversial issues such as mining and nuclear energy, has produced a method for collective decision-making and conflict resolution that involves assumptions and premises quite opposed to the liberal-elitist and Republican ones.
From the perspective of innovation in public administrations which are open to and aim at the establishment of consensus, the feasibility of common-interest projects requires not only specific routines, but also political leadership – a type of leadership that is quite different from the traditional one existing in hierarchical and vertical structures. The first task to be undertaken here is not only to increase the number of social actors and the diversity of informants on a particular problem, but also to ensure the sustainability of the projects that emerge, since most of the initiatives developed in innovation environments are conditioned by their organizational context – that is, by a context defined by political dynamics.
Ten innovation connectors
How can innovation contribute to building an open democracy? The answer is summed up in these ten connectors of innovation.
- placing innovation and collective intelligence at the center of public management strategies,
- aligning all government areas with clearly-defined goals on associative platforms,
- shifting the frontiers of knowledge and action from the institutions to public deliberation on local challenges,
- establishing leadership roles, in a language that everyone can easily understand, to organize and plan the wealth of information coming out of citizens’ ideas and to engage those involved in the sustainability of the projects,
- mapping the ecosystem and establishing dynamic relations with internal and, particularly, external agents: the citizens,
- systematizing the accumulation of information and the creative processes, while communicating progress and giving feedback to the whole community,
- preparing society as a whole to experience a new form of governance of the common good,
- cooperating with universities, research centers and entrepreneurs in establishing reward mechanisms,
- aligning people, technologies, institutions and the narrative with the new urban habits, especially those related to environmental sustainability and public services,
- creating education and training programs in tune with the new skills of the 21st century,
- building incubation spaces for startups responding to local challenges,
- inviting venture capital to generate a satisfactory mix of open innovation, inclusive development policies and local productivity.
Two items in this list are probably the determining factors of any effective innovation process. The first has to do with the correct decision on the mechanisms through which we have pushed the boundaries outwards, so as to bring citizen ideas into the design and co-creation of solutions. This is not an easy task, because it requires a shared organizational mentality on previously non-existent patterns of cooperation, which must now be sustained through dialog and operational dynamics aimed at solving problems defined by external actors – not just any problem.
Another key aspect of the process, related to the breaking down of the institutional barriers that surround and condition action frameworks, is the revaluation of a central figure that we have not yet mentioned here: the policy makers. They are not exactly political leaders or public officials. They are not innovators either. They are the ones within Public Administration who possess highly valuable management skills and knowledge, but who are constantly colliding against the glittering institutional constellations that no longer work.
In short, they are the people who manage innovation, not technological fads. And these people are quite different from innovators, entrepreneurs, researchers, and other innovation agents. Innovation management does not seek innovation. It seeks to make organizations innovate and to help the different actors’ and citizens’ power and influence in the programmatic definition of common good projects find their balance. The open innovation paradigm in Public Administration, like any paradigm, cracks the walls of the old bureaucracy and puts in check the autocratic paradigm we all know too well. It is for this very reason that the difficult task of putting into practice the reinvention of institutions gets delayed, in the midst of tensions and resistance, for it implies the distribution of power and decisions to frameworks of legitimacy and collective consensus. But it is worth trying because, since we are doomed to becoming intelligent, this offers us a historic opportunity to avoid highly worrying future scenarios and civilization patterns.
The challenge consists, after all, in setting governments up to the standards of modern digital culture: a new way of feeling, describing and perceiving the world.