The Governance Collab: Starting Principles


As we begin this year, we feel that we have a reasonably good grasp of the challenge out there, and we also have an initial sense of what a solution might look like.  The challenge is that harnessing human centered design for governance innovation requires bridging a gap – a gap between those with the political will and expertise to tackle governance challenges on the ground, and those with the creative skill-set and technological acumen to develop new approaches. At this incipient stage of harnessing innovation for better governance, we see a small number of isolated innovators, working within the limits of the technologies they are able to tap, and with little investment in assessing the impact of these new approaches.

To bridge this gap, we think one possible approach is to establish an incubator for governance innovation (the Governance Collaboratory) at Stanford. Our sense is that a more systematic effort to identify innovators, spur creative new platforms and approaches, and accumulate evidence of impact is essential. At this stage, we know of no comparable effort that is underway.


As we are thinking about it right now, four principles would guide the design of the Governance Collaboratory:

1. It will begin with concrete problems.

The starting point for innovation is a concrete conceptualization of the problem to be solved. The incubator could be built around a competitive process for soliciting and selecting “problem statements” from potential innovators across the developing world – no matter where they sit (e.g. government bureaucracies, NGOs, university campuses, the private sector).

2. It will select innovators, rather than pre-cooked solutions.

The goal would be to identify potential catalysts for change who demonstrate a deep understanding of the governance challenge they want to tackle and why prior attempts to address it have failed. We would aim not to select and support innovators who are already committed to a particular solution. We want to be early-stage investors in innovators, recognizing that solutions to a particular problem can and should change as we go through the design process.

3. It will employ human-centered design (HCD) with a multi-disciplinary team.

Problem-solving requires a team with a mix of skills, people who are deep in their own disciplines but able to collaborate across disciplines. The HCD approach begins with an intensive effort to develop a common understanding of the problem (through field-based, user-centered data collection), and then turns to an intensive design process of ideation, prototyping, and testing. This approach has the potential to bridge communities that are not currently in contact: those who understand why governments are not working (activists and reformers), those who understand the frontiers of what technology makes possible (technologists), and those who understand how to communicate, engage, and respond to people’s needs through a variety of different mediums.

4. It will build an evidence base.

While prototyping and testing are built into the process of human-centered design, it is essential to continue the process of tracking and measuring impact as the innovation is rolled out. The incubator would be designed to facilitate partnerships with social scientists to rigorously assess the impact of the approaches that emerge from the design process. This will put the Governance Collaboratory in a position not only to make new platforms and technologies available, but also to document the impact that they are having.

We welcome your thoughts and feedback on these starting principles.