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Reflections on Tools for Transformative Innovation Policy (Group 10)

During the main engagement activity on Day 2 of the TIPC Conference, groups of participants were tasked with entering an in-depth discussion on a specified topic. Our group consisted of 11 participants: policymakers, researchers and funding agency representatives from six different countries. The aim of this exercise was to advance the discussion and generate input towards the TIP research agenda by exploring concrete tools for Transformative Innovation Policy — a topic that appeared to be highly relevant, as all participants quickly found common ground  perceiving this as one of the greatest challenges to their work. The objective of the activity was to prepare a short pitch on the most pressing issues that emerged during the discussion.

Tools: A Definition

The start of the discussion instantly evinced the complexity of the topic at hand, as the question was raised how ‘tools’ was to be understood in this context. ‘Are we talking analytical tools, communication and design tools, evaluation, assessment, participation tools?’, one participant asked. Consensus was found on all named examples being relevant to Transformative Innovation Policy. Ultimately, tools were defined more broadly as “process enablers”.

The following provides an overview of the major challenges that arose during the debate and the tools and solutions suggested accordingly.

1 – Cherish messiness: ‘We have to know that we don’t know what we are doing’

Embracing the group theme, the “PDCA” tool ( a framework for planning, doing, checking and acting) was suggested for guiding the discussion and for defining the phases and areas in which TIP tools are used. Interestingly enough, contemplating the PDCA framework emphasised one of the crucial, and often challenging, elements in the philosophy of Transformative Innovation: Frameworks and tools tend to assume a very clear and linear process, which often doesn’t apply. Policy making is often messier than that with things happening simultaneously. In fact, within TIP, this messiness of doing things simultaneously in a non-linear manner should be seen as a virtue. The process is participative and involves situations of high uncertainty. ‘We have to know that we don’t know what we are doing’ as one participant put it, implying that according processes ask for flexibility and constant re-evaluation and re-planning where everything conflates.

  • So called meta-planning tools were suggested as a solution, since they focus on continuous improvement in the development of processes and products and are less sequential.

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2 – Tools for selection and true participation

One participants shared his experience of usually receiving enthusiastic reactions from policymakers when suggesting formative evaluation and true participation – two core notions of TIPC. However, knowledge and power asymmetries of incumbents remain a challenge that needs to be acknowledged. Related questions included: ‘how to select those that participate in the participatory systems and how to organise participation?’, emphasising that the required philosophy is in place but truly participatory tools are needed. The following tools were suggested in response:

  • Organising expert teams to break the silos of different ministries and bring policymakers around the table.
  • Digital tools to facilitate participatory discussion and a hybrid form of organisation: Microsoft Teams, Solved, Miro, Slack and WhatsApp.
  • Solved was furthermore suggested for selecting the right people that match the challenge at hand, as it is a tool for co-creation that provides a pool of experts in Sustainability and Clean-Tech, but can also be used as a collaborative white board space.
  • Double-Diamond Framework: This framework stems from the Design Thinking approach, and was suggested as a solution for finding out who to engage and how to deal with messiness as the starting point. This a problem where the underlying challenge is not yet fully understood. The Double-Diamond framework consists of different phases, that includes: teaming up with people from very different worlds, the formulation of selection criteria, process definition and clarifying the problem description before the next messy phase starts. ‘Once it’s okay for people to be completely lost, it triggers them to open up and think innovatively’, one participant clarified.

3 – Data security and privacy

Another challenge when selecting tools related to TIP and policy making is that information is sensitive and must be secure. Therefore, publicly owned platforms might be problematic in this regard and policymakers may question the legal side of tools. A suggested solution for this challenge reads as follows:

  • Lab 2.0: Instead of using virtual tools, a physical space could be created where people from different ministries are brought together to freely discuss things in person as a solution for breaking silos between ministries. Example: OneTeamGov

4 – Stakeholder engagement and commitment

Sometimes it can be tricky to keep stakeholders engaged and committed to continuing the process towards Transformative Innovation Policy. It is hardly possible for policymakers to run experiments, as they cannot run selective funding schemes or exclude different actors in the system to test what will happen. One thing potentially offering redemption is the perspective of formalising interaction:

  • Simulation Model: A simulation model is to be developed together with various policymakers from various levels of execution. It can be seen as a qualitative method for exploring impact models within people’s mindsets, connecting pathways of impact as well as policy instruments, applied to different scenarios in a collaborative way. Testing different options and allowing policymakers to explore unanticipated outcomes and look at the same bigger picture shall enhance engagement, dialogue and commitment. Using an according interface to which all actors have access offers a tangible variable that keeps people connected.

5 – Knowledge Management and empowering people with their own data

The data and information gathered can sometimes be just as messy as the policy making process itself, so the organisation and structuring of input becomes a real challenge.

  • Knowledge visualisation: Knowledge management and visualisation is key as it helps people utilise the information provided. There are many different way to visualise knowledge, but sometimes it is even enough to assist in setting and visualising priorities or mapping and ranking stakeholders. These simple steps can help in initiating a reflection process.

6 – Defining the challenge and facilitating dialogue in a country context

The maturity of institutional dialogue might vary greatly per country. In many countries the practise of having inter-ministerial dialogue is far from being in place, meaning that elements to set up dialogue need to be introduced. It needs to be acknowledged that facilitating dialogue works differently in areas such as Africa or Latin America and Finland. Hence, context requires different types of tools to set up Transformative Innovation Policy. Potential tools for facilitating dialogue in a country context include the following:

  • Mission oriented approach: By setting ambitious and inspirational challenges that everyone can agree on facilitates dialogue and commitment. Elements of the defined challenges then need to be integrated into tools and dialogue to construct something meaningful.
  • Framing: Adapting tools and using specific concepts allows for extracting information e.g. of the sustainability transition or system innovation narrative. Framing can lead to what could be a shared priority to work on.

How not to reinvent the wheel?

In conclusion, participants agreed that the availability of tools is not the issue as there are many relevant tools out there. However, being aware of and selecting the right tools as well as inserting them into the process of policy making remains difficult. The challenges we are facing are urgent and ask for timely solutions. So how do we prevent reinventing the wheel and repeating something that has been done elsewhere already? Ultimately, it became apparent that there is no one-stop solution; some tools might serve a specific governance system, yet not another. It needs to be acknowledged that the selection of tools is contingent on the governance landscape. There is a need for experimentation which calls for an allowance and acceptance of errors and re-evaluation. Furthermore, people need to be engaged and silos opened up as much as possible.

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