Batapa-Sigue: Is innovation in government achievable?

April 30, 2022 by No Comments

GOVERNMENT needs a thorough overhaul in the Digital Age. Or it will be the very reason why we are not going to grow as a country. Embracing innovation research of OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) in 2017 highlights innovation in government to be about finding new ways to impact the lives of citizens, and new approaches to activating them as partners to shape the future together. It involves overcoming old structures and modes of thinking and embracing new technologies and ideas. The potential for innovation in government is immense; however, the challenges governments face are significant.The OECD report called on governments to focus on several areas in particular to maximize the potential for innovation. First is to signal innovation as a priority. This can be done through political support and capacity building. Innovation is unlikely to take root in government unless senior leaders communicate that it is an important priority. This includes acknowledgement that sometimes failure is an acceptable outcome. This empowers civil servants to try new approaches and take calculated risks. Their capacities should also be strengthened by reinforcing their innovation skills.Second is to enable connections across and beyond government. This includes fostering communication and information sharing across and beyond government, by harmonizing rules and developing connection points and networks. Civil servants should have at their disposal means of connecting with each other formally and informally, and for connecting with the public. Governments can foster these connections by building cross-cutting networks and providing platforms for collaboration across organizations and sectors. Governments should enable these connections through clear policy that ensures civil servants are empowered to reach across boundaries, have conversations and share information.Third is to promote trust through transparency and responsiveness. To build long-term innovative capacity, citizens must trust that the government has their best interests at heart; otherwise, they are unlikely to cooperate with user-centered approaches and accept the outcomes of new policies and services. Governments can help build this trust by being open about activities and decisions that affect people. However, transparency is not enough. Citizen input must be considered and acted on, as appropriate, in visible ways.Finally, the government should forge partnerships with all relevant players. Although many countries are insourcing and building up skills and abilities inside governments, governments cannot do it all. Strategic and ongoing partnerships must be forged with civil society organizations, businesses, experts, and the public. Each of these has unique strengths and competencies, and innovation in government accomplishes its biggest successes when all three come together. Civil servants must therefore have the ability to balance and interpret the sometimes competing priorities of these different groups, and be empowered to make decisions on how to proceed with what they learn. Governments from other jurisdictions and countries can also serve as useful partners, as many share common challenges and may have devised solutions that can be replicated or learned from.The so-called Comelec debt fiasco with Sofitel is a classic example of how public or government finances work. Citizens may surmise all types of allegations here – but for me, I still want to see it as part of the procurement process. Government procurement process is a nightmare. So, for innovators who want to fully actualize and create really mind-blowing impactful programs in government, think again.The government bias toward hard projects is not only a political thing — it is a whole-of-government mindset. The process, the red tape, the dynamics, the politics, the lack of foresight, and many more — all rolled into one fiasco. It is easier to procure a ballpen and paper than fund an innovation project. In the middle of my term as councilor, I was forced to choose to recommend a drainage construction instead of a holistic set of interventions to upskill and reskills the workforce for various niche areas like software development, animation, game development and other technologies. I know the drainage work is important and in fact, should be taken from the general fund and not on a project fund supposedly for programs I wish to recommend under my committees.In one instance, I was able to secure a national government sponsorship for a major tourism project in Bacolod — funds to pay for the convention hall. I rigorously processed the papers but due again to political dynamics and the protracted process, the national fund was never released, and I paid the convention hall on my own in monthly installments because the amount was huge. That is the reality of government finances. This is the frustration of people who want to do more inside government.Today, the government probably, both at the local and national level, is a contender for the greatest number of long-standing accounts with the private sector. Before we criticize people in government about transparency and accountability — let us understand — how slow, restrictive, limited, shortsighted public finance is in the Philippines. It is like there is a consensus that every public fund will be stolen, and will be misused, so let us restrict its use, make the process tedious, and limit how it can be used. Sadly, the result is different – for innovators who want public resources to be put to good use — we leave the system. For those who do not care how it is used, they follow the rules but find a way to misuse the funds.