Throughout our time thinking through the Governance Collaboratory, there is one question that has loomed perhaps above all others: how should we think about supporting innovation from inside government as compared to working with activists advocating change from the outside? We have scoped governance (i.e. our “problem space”) to include challenges that both sets of actors address, but our instincts have always led us to believe that working as an innovator inside government is entirely different than as an activist/entrepreneur on the outside.
We ran a workshop this past week in Jamaica with the Rural Agriculture Development Authority (RADA) to help us begin to answer this important question. We tackled a complex systemic issue involving a host of actors both inside and outside government: praedial larceny. The theft of agricultural produce and livestock is a major issue for the Jamaican economy, and one that the agricultural agencies are committed to addressing along with a host of partners from across the Jamaican government. (Blog post coming soon on what we learned through the process of framing the challenge).
We oriented the workshop around the following design challenge:
Redesign how one of the following key stakeholders — farmers, communities, police, or vendors — engage (with RADA) in combatting praedial larceny, in an environment where resources are limited, enforcement is perceived as insufficient, and farmers feel unfairly burdened by the current approach.
Though we learned a lot about the challenges of addressing such an ambitious problem, our primary objective for the workshop was to understand the process of innovating within the public sector by working with a multitude of stakeholders across government. It was a large workshop with over 20 participants, representing each of the major government organizations, involved in Agriculture: RADA, the Ministry of Agriculture, the Jamaica Agricultural Society (JAS), the police, and the Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute (CARDI). We also had representatives from Code for the Caribbean, Slashroots (a Caribbean civic tech NGO), the Mona School of Business & Management, and the Caribbean Open Institute, an IDRC funded initiative, which has been collaborating with the government to support the agricultural sector.
It didn’t take long for the dynamics particular to working inside government to become apparent; it happened as soon as we launched the design challenge and led a discussion around the problem. The room was full of passion and tension as participants expressed their (very strong) opinions about what the problem is or what the solution should be. We reminded everyone that the objective of the discussion was to give everyone a shared background and understanding of the context, and we asked participants to keep an open mind going into the challenge. This quickly demonstrated how critical it is to create a collaborative space for stakeholders accustomed to advocating for their agencies and defending their existing efforts.
We divided the participants into four teams, distributing expertise and organizational affiliation across them. Each team focused on a particular user group as identified in the design challenge. For need finding, we sent half the teams into the mountains to interview farmers and community leaders, one to the local police station, and one to a nearby market.
When we returned to unpack our interviews and define POVs, we were surprised to see each team reframe the challenge around a farmer. In part this was because the police and higglers (what Jamaicans call produce vendors in the markets) we interviewed hadn’t themselves experienced issues with praedial larceny. Almost universally, the teams discovered that farmers faced theft of their crops from within their communities. Many farmers had a strong sense of who had stolen from them, but for various reasons never took action. Some felt the formal punishment was too severe; they wanted someone to be thrown in jail for a day, not years. Others felt the formal system was too costly for them and had little confidence in a positive outcome. For some, a strong sense of community outweighed a concern for their personal loss: if their poor neighbors needed to steal their food to eat, they were happy to feed them. For many, strong community norms against being an informant or not upsetting neighbors kept them silent and resentful. All cases pointed to clear opportunities to design solutions at the community level to address praedial larceny. It is important to keep in mind these insights reflect what we uncovered in farming communities proximate to Kingston, due to the inherent constraints of a 3 day design workshop. We would expect to needs to vary in other rural areas throughout Jamaica.
The teams came up with many compelling ideas from this framing of the problem. One devised a program to employ the idle youth who appeared to be responsible for much of the theft — by utilizing them to help keep RADA’s farmer databases up to date. Another developed an innovative mechanism to shift the losses from a single instance of theft from the farmer to the community as a whole, thereby creating incentives for community members to work together to police against larceny. A third team focused on the possibilities for developing a dispute resolution and compensation mechanism outside the formal system.
When the teams presented their final ideas to the group, some of the predictable intergovernmental dynamics returned. Despite going through the design process themselves over three days, some people immediately dismissed ideas as infeasible (e.g. that’s not allowed under the existing law) or inappropriate (e.g. that should be done by the government not the community).
In general, everyone enjoyed the workshop immensely. We heard familiar sentiments of enthusiasm during our debrief: “I wish the workshop were longer than three days,” “I wish I had learned this years ago,” “This is such a better way of approaching problems than the one we use.” But we probed them to think about the challenges they might face in taking their learnings back to their organizations. People expressed concern that their bosses would really need to participate in the workshop themselves to appreciate the ideas coming out of it, but that it wasn’t in the culture of the government for high level officials to engage in such activities. Others anticipated the pressures to get things done quickly would be at odds with the experimental, iterative nature of design thinking (which was consistent with what we heard in our own empathy interviews in the fall).
Of the three workshops we have done thus far, we’ve probably learned the most from this one simply because complexity was ratcheted up on every dimension: the issue we chose to address, the stakeholders involved, even the size of the workshop. In our next couple posts, we’ll share what we learned and the key insights that will inform the design of the Collaboratory next year.