The Needs of A Governance Innovator: The Reformer

This is the third of a series of blog posts summarizing recent need finding efforts for the Governance Collaboratory, an initiative to bring design thinking to governance challenges in the developing world.  See our previous posts here and here for further discussion on this work.  

Illustration: Truth and Lie

Our interviews with government reformers underscore the unique challenges of the governance innovator who operates in a complex political and bureaucratic environment.  We spoke to an established academic who stepped into a political environment with an ambitious mandate, only to encounter significant frustration as partners within agencies failed to give priority to innovative ideas over their pressing day to day demands.  We interviewed a former math professor turned technocrat who needed to balance his impetus for reform and change with a strategy to gain acceptance and credibility with his country’s political elites.  We heard stories of the delicate dance one seasoned bureaucrat had to employ to leverage the expertise of outsiders without leading insiders to feel a loss of ownership.

Our discussions point towards a unique set of conditions in which government reformers can successfully innovate.  The following POVs highlight user needs and insights that feel critical for this innovator type:

  • Technocratic reformer needs a safe place to experiment and iterate because failure in government undermines political credibility
  • Innovation champion passionate about addressing pressing challenges needs to identify the spaces where she can affect change because she operates in complex political environment where many things are beyond her control
  • Optimistic innovator needs insulated space to experiment on innovations around high priority issues because daily pressure from above is focused on just getting things done and political players see a non-linear process as inefficient and wasteful
  • Seasoned technocrat needs to carefully orchestrate his role as well as key insiders/outsider because success depends on insiders feeling valued in design and ownership over reforms