Crafting & Implementing a Participatory National Innovation Strategy
The Paraguayan government has designed and is executing its first National Innovation Strategy using a participatory approach. The intention is to co-design an Innovation Strategy by unifying different government sectors, the civil society, academia, and the private sector. This interactive process employs new and innovative strategies to include the community into the policymaking and agenda-setting process.
In August 2019, President Mario Benítez passed the National Decree 2314, calling for a yearlong “National Innovation Strategy” or ENI (Estrategia Nacional de Innovación). This strategy is the first nation-wide strategy specifically for innovation. The ENI is reshaping how policymaking is done in Paraguay, which has generally been very bureaucratic and lacking coordination. Instead, this strategy is more efficient, implemented in record time, and utilising best practices for community participation at both the community and governmental level.
The ENI has two general mandates, as outlined in the national decree. The first is to identify national challenges and develop programs to address these issues. The second is to design a new innovation unit for the national government that will be adopted by the President during the 1st semester of 2020. To achieve both of these objectives, the team has integrated extensive community input into the development process.
To make the Strategy ‘bottom-up,’ the operations team from the government has gone to the community to understand the major challenges they faced. Instead of having the national government decide itself on which thematic areas the country will focus, Paraguay will select these topics based on input from the community. To do so, the team has run workshops around the country—both in major cities and in smaller ones—with local leaders to understand the daily challenges faced by people in these communities. At the same time, the team is actively deploying online workshops to reach a larger audience. These workshops emphasise that the Strategy is everyone’s national innovation strategy, and each workshop ends with an open invitation for community members to participate and stay involved with the strategy moving forward.
Importantly, the Strategy is not just concerned with challenges, but also focuses on the capacities the country possesses to address these issues. These two inputs are being used to develop a mapping of Opportunities to Innovate. This framing is important because working on the selected initiatives will increase the innovation capacity of the country. It will do so by bringing together different actors in society to work together in a new way and with a common goal. This process will become institutionalised and scaled once the new innovation unit is created, which will be responsible for the execution as well as the replication of this process in the future.
Additionally, since the goal is to be community-driven, the ultimate decision about the Strategy, such as selecting the challenges as well as the formation of the new governance unit, will be decided by a ‘Driving Team’ as well as 7 ministers from the government. The decision-making authority therefore rests with the public as well as the broader government, rather than just the operating team running the Strategy.
The concept behind the Driving Team is similar to the private sector, in which companies have Executive Boards. Eighteen individuals were selected from civil society, the private sector, and the academic and scientific community through an open application process. This also marks the first time that entities from all of these sectors have come together to discuss national-level challenges. Providing space for community representatives to participate in the government’s decision-making process is an important step for the government. In the past, people have been looking for more ways to get involved with the government’s decisions, and therefore people are eager for such opportunities.
Working closely with the different ministries is also an intentional effort to ensure that the Strategy is co-created by all parts of the government. Gaining the support of the different ministries is important for the success of the initiative and the new innovation unit. This will have a broad and long-reaching impact for the development of the country as these groups will be more likely to support the national Strategy and be willing to have their ministry collaborate with the new innovation unit.
The operation team within the National Innovation Strategy has been taking advantage of this opportunity also to unify key stakeholders in the country. In Paraguay, there are several resources earmarked for innovation within the different ministries and groups. However, the challenge is that these projects are often done in isolation in a more siloed manner, confined to a specific ministry or organisation. This means that it is harder to collaborate and share lessons between different entities, sometimes leading to duplicate or ineffective projects. However, a more cohesive and organised national strategy will ensure that lessons learned can be more easily shared. The community will also benefit from having greater and more efficient investment in innovation.
What Makes Your Project Innovative?
This participatory strategy represents the first instance of unification between national actors, including the public sector, private sector, academia, and civil society. This allows for broad representation and a better informed decision-making process. The Strategy is unique with its ‘co-creation’ process; it is not the strategy of just one ministry. Instead, it is the Strategy of everyone, and to ensure that everyone has ownership, there have been several online and in-person ways for people to participate. Increased collaboration at the government level has also improved efficiency, making the policy-making process move quickly.
This strategy is also unique because the long-term vision is not just to address the selected challenges but also to develop the country’s ‘innovation muscle.’ Executing these programs will require many players to work together and will integrate innovation into the thinking and working process for companies, citizens, and government long term.
What is the current status of your innovation?
The National Innovation Strategy is currently in the implementation phase. Starting in October 2019, the team began running in-person workshops around the country to gather the input from local leaders and citizens on the challenges and opportunities faced by Paraguay. In January 2020, an online workshop was also launched to allow more people to continuously participate. Analysis of responses shows that 6 major themes that have emerged, all of which are now being validated with local experts on the topics. The team is working with an economist to develop a set of criteria for the Driving Team to use when selecting the two challenges in April 2020. At the same time, the team is evaluating different structures for the Paraguayan Innovation Unit, which will be formally launched during the first semester of 2020, by Presidential decree. At the same time, the team has been strengthening international connections to help with the design of the initiatives, once selected.
Collaborations & Partnerships
The foundation of the Strategy is collaboration, both nationally & internationally. Seven ministers, the driving team with broad public representation, the UN’s Acceleration Lab, IDB, and the World Bank, among others. Workshops are being held with experts and practitioners on thematic areas to better understand the challenges that have arisen. Partnerships with local leaders are necessary for running workshops and getting input from citizens, and the private sector has supported with public events.
Users, Stakeholders & Beneficiaries
Citizens benefit since the innovation unit will more efficiently coordinate the deployment of national resources for innovation and for the two selected national challenges. Government organisations benefit from increased communication between organisations and ministries, facilitating the sharing of best practices. Civil society and academic groups also benefit as this is one of the first times they get to closely participate with the government and be involved in the decision-making process.
Results, Outcomes & Impacts
While the strategy is still being executed, it is a very iterative process, meaning that it is continually being adjusted and adapted as new learnings and observations arise. In total, the team has led 9 identifications workshops and 5 expert workshops, speaking with 245 unique participants. To get maximal participation in different cities around the country, the team has learned to establish strong local contact to help rally support and increase turnout at workshops and to also use the online platform. At the same time, the team realised that it is important to focus both on challenges faced and on Paraguay's current assets. Together, these constitute ‘Opportunities to Innovate,’ and the team has discovered over 300 so far. From these, the top few options will be presented to the Driving Team in March, when they will select two of them for the national initiatives.
Challenges and Failures
One challenge the team has faced is the fast timeline of the strategy. Given that the process is less than a year in length, the team has had to move quickly in order to fulfil its mandate. Because of this, it has not been possible to have numerous workshops in all parts of the country; to overcome this challenge, the team has launched an online tool for virtual workshops. However, the fast timeline has made it hard to develop and deploy the technology. Originally, one member of the Driving Team created an online platform for idea submission; however, due to technological difficulties especially in rural areas, it was not deployed. Nevertheless, the team created a video tutorial and is recruiting volunteers to lead virtual workshops in place of this tech platform to ensure that more people can participate.
Conditions for Success
The strategy needs to have a few key leaders, or champions, who will support such a new approach within the country. Since the new innovation unit will be placed in the government, it is particularly important to have the support of different government leaders and ministries, which can happen by involving them in the co-creation process to ensure that their perspectives are heard. These champions also need to have good relations within the broader community. Since success for the unit and the strategy will depend on the successful unification of different innovation players, it is necessary that there is support from different community and private sector groups. At the same time, international partnerships have also been critical. Because innovation requires doing things differently, it will be useful to learn from what other countries and organisations have done in structuring their innovation units and also addressing national challenges.
Because the Innovation Strategy is still in the implementation phase, it has not yet been replicated elsewhere. However, once created, the new Innovation Unit will continue to push for innovation in the country and will coordinate innovation efforts moving forward. The unit will also execute the initiatives for the two selected challenges and repeat this process in the future, therefore continuously accepting input from the public about ideas and problems faced. This will help the country continue to develop its capacity for innovation. At the same time, the unit will help take the solutions developed in Paraguay and ‘export’ or share them globally, to help address similar challenges in other countries.
One of the key lessons from this strategy is that co-creation is necessary. Leading up to the passage of Decree 2314 by the president, there was roughly a year-long process in which interested community members volunteered their time to discuss what an innovation strategy might look like for the country. This consisted of workshops, meetings, panels, and chats with other countries to get a better sense of what innovation could look like in Paraguay, and to truly uncover what the people wanted to see in their country. This concerted effort from these individuals at an early stage helped gather support from multiple sectors and also fundamentally made this initiative both a public and a private effort. Therefore, one of the major lessons learned from this strategy is to ensure that the initial idea creation process heavily involves citizens before it is brought up to the highest decision-making authorities in the government.
Una representante del sector académico en el equipo impulsor de la #ENIPy es la Dra. Antonieta Rojas de Arias, reconocida científica y la primera mujer en presidir la @SCientificaPy 🇵🇾— Estrategia Nacional de Innovación (@ENIparaguay) February 13, 2020
Conversamos con ella ayer durante la reunión y te compartimos parte de su testimonio 👇🏼 pic.twitter.com/eN7yTuV7cH
¿Qué significa #innovación? 💡— Estrategia Nacional de Innovación (@ENIparaguay) February 11, 2020
Cambios, procesos, mejores resultados y nuevos conocimientos son algunas de las palabras que encontramos en el Manual de Oslo de @OECD
Mira el vídeo para conocer la respuesta 👇🏼 pic.twitter.com/H2f97lQITn