ICT-led Social Innovation
The ICT-led Social Innovation Process, pioneered by IICD in developing contexts since 1996, has been a comprehensive and methodologically thorough approach to developing ICT-enabled solutions that are defined, driven and owned by a collective of key sector stakeholders in a particular country.
Catalysing lasting change within a country’s social sector is not a simple endeavour. Developing an individual ICT-enabled service or application that yields benefits for particular individuals or groups is certainly feasible where appropriate knowledge, skills, technology and finances are made available. Only infrequently however do they lead to changes in system norms, procedures and regulations required to support and sustain the use of an application by a large group of users over time.
IICD’s conviction is that when individual ICT-enabled solutions and services are developed as part of a wider sectoral social innovation effort, the process itself enhances the collective capacity of key individuals and organisations within national systems to understand, support, develop and sustain the solutions and efforts they see as most critical to the success of their work. This process is key to ensuring that the use of the services and solutions, as well as the new practices and procedures that evolve with them, incrementally become embedded in the norms of national sector systems. Through a strong focus on individual empowerment and skills development, organisational development, and institutional relationship strengthening, supported by an on-going participatory learning and knowledge-sharing structure, the ICT-led Social Innovation Process embodies a coordinated bottom-up advocacy path toward local, district/provincial and national policy/governance bodies for contextually relevant and sustainable ICT-enabled services.
The core of the ICT-led Social Innovation Process approach is working with clusters of complementary pilot projects that together seek to develop a suite of solutions and local experience-based expertise that address a particular sector’s most critical challenges. Although the projects implemented by individual organisations generate valuable solutions and information services, and contribute to increased effectiveness, outreach and cost-efficiency of information and communication, this value in and of itself is not the end goal of the Social Innovation Process approach. Rather, the process in which the projects are formulated and implemented is designed for them to act as a vehicle to collectively achieve sector or system capacity change at a larger scale. ‘Scale’ here can refer to larger numbers of health organisations and people benefitting from the integration and use of ICT in their daily activities, or alternatively can refer to ICT use being awarded a central role in national/sector development policies, strategies and policy implementation plans. Rather than working towards systemic change towards the end of a change process, the ICT-led Social Innovation Process includes essential structures and activities that contribute to triggering systemic change and wide-scale adoption of the innovation right from the onset. The approach works on generating a collective capacity for innovation that is larger than the sum of its parts, able to act as a force for improvement and change for the sector from within its own professional ranks and structures. We have found that in social change, the drive for innovation does not come from a single organisation or firm, but rather comes from a network of opinion leaders and advocates that have experienced this change and have routinised the innovation in their own thinking and operations. Many industry and research-led ICT4D innovations evolve in a manner that positions them outside of an organisation’s core day-to-day activities, or within specialised vertical programmes removed from an organisation’s core administration, support structures or management. ICT4D initiatives that are conceived of, and managed by, external agents, in collaboration with local organisations, are frequently seen to be ‘owned’ by the external agent and not by the implementing institutions, its professional staff and management. Both of these approaches may result in advanced and innovative platforms and solutions that generate positive results, however in IICD’s experience they by themselves do not serve to create the systemic transformations and the support structures needed for long-term sustainable change.
In IICD’s ICT-led Social Innovation Process approach, the ICT4D project is a means to serve organisations with a key stake in the national health, education or economic development system, to explore and demonstrate how technology can best assist them in delivering improved services to their particular sector stakeholders. the collective experience and capacity gained by the teams and key user groups that develop and implement them, provides visible evidence and locally-informed arguments for opinion leaders at various levels of sectorial hierarchy to effectively lobby and persuade decision makers to adopt and embed the proven innovations on a larger scale. We have seen that most social change is neither purely top-down nor bottom-up, but rather involves alliances between the top and the bottom. It is such alliances that the ICT-led Social Innovation Process approach helps to generate and inform, and we hope that the information and documents contained in this website and digital archive will help to make our experiences available to ICT4D initiatives into the future.