Innovation works best when government does least?

The question of the nature of government’s role in social issues and the market has been debated to an impasse. So too, it seems, has its role in innovation. Does government support foster innovation? Or, does innovation work best when government does least? In 2010, the Economist magazine hosted a debate between the two camps, and fleshed out the arguments for greater or lesser contributions by government to the process of innovation.

Defending the theory that innovation works best when government does least, Amar Bhide of Harvard University and author of The Venturesome Economy argues that too-involved governments inevitably muddle the innovation process; they choose the wrong winner by supporting projects that are politically popular, as opposed to those deserving of investment. [Read more…]

Does Innovation amount to Impatient Optimism?

The Gates Foundation is slowly growing into a powerful global force driving innovation around the world. Its health and developmental agendas have gradually be revised and realigned into a framework that increasingly blends improving the world with doing new things in order to be able to improve the world. Their motto, impatient optimism, seems to capture that sense of purpose and vision rather well.

Here at CKS we’ve been working closely with the Gates Foundation since 2009, when we began ethnographic research and design activities in Bihar around vaccine delivery services. The Foundation is a sponsor of our upcoming Design Public Conclave and we’ll have several of their key personnel at the event as well.

I sat down yesterday to talk with Ashok Alexander, the Country Head of the Gates Foundation in India. He talked to me about the need for immersive engagement, intimacy, understanding, between those who are trying to do good and those one is trying to help. In the case of Avahan, for instance, the Gates-supported HIV-AIDS program, Ashok said that learning about sex-workers and their lives, livelihoods, challenges and threats was all critical for designing the intervention. That kind of approach, and the learnings that came from understanding how to prevent violence against women in urban environments, turned out to have surprising impacts on how the Foundation was able to think about maternal and child health in rural areas, including in the state of Bihar.

Ashok Alexander will be speaking at the Design Public Conclave on how to better imagine India as an innovation society. He’s got the kind of engaged, critical and visionary perspective that we need to institutionalize in new ways to actually transform ourselves into an innovation society.

New NESTA Report on Innovation in India

Can growth of higher education keep up with India’s human potential? Can India’s low cost innovations disrupt the global economy? What effects do abstract social and creative innovations have in the Indian context? These are some of the questions that NESTA, in partnership with the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office, UK Research Councils, and the UK-India Education and Research Initiative, are looking to answer.

NESTA’s recent publication on Innovation in India is a survey on the changing landscape of research and innovation in the Indian environment. Meant to be a resource for policymakers, higher education institutions, and innovative companies seeking partners in India, the intensive study is based on interviews with individuals in fields of policy, business, education, research and civil society. Using these interviews and the latest data, the report notes trends as well as provides insight into critical issues in India’s innovation trajectory, finally asking if India will achieve its ambitious innovation goals, and what it will mean for the rest of the world.

This NESTA report builds on the work done by the think tank Demos, in their publication Atlas of Ideas. In particular it draws from India: the uneven innovator, by Kirsten Bound, who now works with NESTA. After spending five years as a senior researcher at Demos, where she focused on democracy and innovation in India and Brazil, Bound worked for Tony Blair’s Africa Governance Initiative in Rwanda advising the Prime Minister on policy delivery. She consulted for the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation on Investment Climate Reform, and in 2009 joined NESTA as a Lead Policy Advisor on Innovation Systems. Her published works include: Brazil: the natural knowledge economy, The Everyday Democracy Index, Mapping Governance at the Local Level, and Community Participation: Who Benefits? She has also has created several series of forums designed to increase communication and learning to create spaces for new and innovative ideas in the European context. Kirsten was in Delhi earlier this week and spent lunch talking with Aditya Dev Sood about innovation in India and Design Public III. We at CKS are very hopeful for her insight and expertise at the next edition of Design Public.

Effective Technology in Education Innovation

Khan Academy, which began in 2004 as a small collection of youtube tutorials by Salman Khan, a graduate of MIT and Harvard, has become a library of free educational videos that has has earned the recognition and support of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Google. With over 3,000 mini lectures in 15 subjects, mostly in sciences, technology, and math, Khan Academy’s mission of “providing a free world class education to anyone, anywhere,” is reaching across the globe, from rural Asia to classrooms in America, and is transforming the paradigm of education with a de-centralized, student-centered approach to learning.

At KhanAcademy.org, video lectures are simple, the only audio being Khan’s voice and the only visual a colorful virtual whiteboard. They are also short, each lesson about fifteen minutes long, despite covering subjects in diverse fields levels K-12. However, Khan has found that he simplicity lends accessibility. In an interview with 60 minutes he said, “I’ve got a lot of feedback from people who say it feels like I’m sitting next to them and we’re looking at the paper together…I think that’s what people like, the humanity of it.” In addition, the website also offers practice exercises and peer-to-peer tutorials, and software to track one’s own progress.
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Experience Based Design: Healthcare

Public institutions are often criticized as being bureaucratic, inefficient, or ineffective at fulfilling the purposes they are designed to do, compared with private, user-centric, industries. Often in the case of public institutions, individuals have no opportunity to choose a better product, as is the case in the private sector. That therefore leaves little incentive to innovate the design of public services. However initiatives are not absent. ThinkPublic, a social design agency, has worked with hospitals in the UK to redesign the National Health Service to become a more patient-centered public service. Their experience based design methodology involves individuals’ experiences, existing and aspirational, in the design process. Interviews, videos, photographs, journals, and web blogs of patients, carers, and hospital staff have all been used to design new, patient-centered, solutions for several difficult areas of health care, while simultaneously encouraging patients, carers, and staff to work together to address problems.
[Read more…]

ColourNext Dialogues in New Delhi: An Overview

The second edition of ColourNext Dialogues, a discussion on the trends identified in Asian Paint’s ColourNext project for 2012, was held in Delhi on February 28th. Fashion designers, artists, architects, interior designers, and students met for an evening to interact with the ideas, give their critiques, and discuss the social trends behind the colour palettes.

To open the event, Anand Vijayan of CKS, spoke about the inspiration for ColourNext Dialogues, and the opportunity to look deeper into the colour trends for real meaning. Ekta Ohri, head of projects at CKS, invited participants to talk about their own relationship with colour. Some professionals spoke about their use of colour in design and art, and observed a growing trend to more neutral, blank colours. Several participants spoke about colour as the first and primary means of communication with the world, making colour the defining aspect in an object’s identity. Whether professionals, students, or neither, all the participants enjoyed colour as more than a visual experience. They spoke about how colour as an expression reflects mood, emotion, and even personal identity.
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Political Participation and Trust in Ancient Athens

By Ayesha Vemuri and Sedona Chinn

The foundations of western democracy and political thought lie in the ancient Athenian democracy. Their institutions are the roots from which modern governments have grown. Therefore, as Design!publiC III explores modern phenomena of political participation and trust, it stands to reason that Athenian understandings, as the ancestor to modern democracy, be likewise understood.

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Imagination at Work

What is your preferred way of leaving a meeting, by fireman pole or by slide? Companies that work in the realm of creative innovation have designed environments for their employees that encourage imagination, activity, and fun.

Lego’s Denmark office is such an example. The design of the open ground floor, scattered with couches and Lego displays, encourages interaction amongst designers during the creative process. And when business meetings must take place upstairs, the slide provides a quick get away.

Lego’s employment philosophy is intrinsically tied to their product, proclaiming that, “Creativity is at the heart of the LEGO Group. So we build it systematically into everything we do. In the same playful and highly imaginative way that children transform a pile of bricks into a jumbo jet or a fairytale palace, we bring imagination to work everyday – in the way we go about our jobs, our experience-based approach to learning and our inventive career development.”
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WikiLeaks, State Secrets, and Trust in Government

When WikiLeaks released hundreds of thousands of classified documents on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and State Department memos, the world was forced to consider, How much do we trust our governments?

WikiLeaks, a whistleblowing website, says “We believe that transparency in government activities leads to reduced corruption, better government, and stronger democracies. All governments can benefit from increased scrutiny by the world community, as well as their own people. We believe this scrutiny requires information.” In the past, WikiLeaks had published information on pollution dumping off the coast of Kenya, a video of an American helicopter attack in Baghdad that killed twelve people, including two Reuter’s journalists, protocol in Guantanamo Bay, and e-mails from Sarah Palin’s personal account. The more recent classified documents and diplomatic cables were published in coordination with major newspapers, such as Le Monde, El Pais, Der Speigel, and The Guardian (who shared with the New York Times).
[Read more…]

Fashion with a Breath of Fresh Air

We all wear them: Clothes. We use them to keep warm, exercise, define ourselves, make political statements, but can we also use them to clean up our environment? In an unlikely collaboration, successful fashion designer Helen Storey and polymer chemist Tony Ryan have collaborated to create the world’s first air purifying clothing.


 
 
 
The science has already been used to create self-cleaning windows and paints. When nanoparticles of titanium dioxide come into contact with ultraviolet light, it causes pollutants to break down. By applying this to clothing, this technology can clean the air as we move through it, especially in urban areas, where pollution can cause severe health problems.

 
 
 

What is innovative about Catalytic Clothing, however, is not just the science, but also the democracy of the idea. Rather than attaching the technology to a specific brand, Catalytic Clothing is working with Ecover, a company that makes ecologically friendly cleaning products, to be sold as a fabric softener. Instead of needing a new wardrobe, your existing clothes can be transformed into mobile air purifiers when they are washed. Professor Helen Storey told CNN, “We are empowering people’s existing wardrobes with a technology that will allow them to have a significant impact on the quality of air we breathe.”

the technology works particularly well on jeans

Catylitic Clothing expects to be on the market in the next two years, and is putting forth a series of cultural and artistic demonstrations, such as the “Field of Jeans,” above, to raise awareness about how science and fashion have collaborated to create environmental innovation.