GovTech: Using technology to support the Sustainable Development Goals in Portugal
GovTech is a Portuguese public competition that rewards innovative products and services provided by Startups and addressing at least one of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
It intends to stimulate the national Startup ecosystem, by promoting a sustainable economic growth, fostering innovation and opening new economic opportunities based on the 2030 Agenda.
The use of blockchain in the voting phase opened to the public was one of the perks of this competition
GovTech is a public competition that rewards innovative products and services of Startups addressing at least one of the 17 SDGs. In the 1st edition there were projects focused on the environment, women’s rights, the youth, migrants, fighting poverty, etc.
In fact, the way GovTech was designed had two main goals in mind: to promote the SGDs nationwide, and to stimulate the Startup ecosystem and dynamism in Portugal. Startups usually employ young people and have a reputation of being disruptive, creative, innovative and have a great growth potential, making everything seem possible. So enabling their development and teaching them about the importance of the SDGs, promotes a sustained, inclusive and sustainable growth.
2018 was the year of the Govtech first edition, with the all process being divided in four main phases:
• The 1st phase was to submit the applications. The candidates had to present a video, the technical specifications of a working prototype and the business case for the project, which had to include sound production and sale costs, revenue models, among other things.
• The 2nd phase was to check if the projects were in compliance with the illegibility criteria, namely its convergence with the SDGs.
• On the 3rd phase, everyone could analyse the projects accepted to the competition and then vote and choose the six finalist projects. All the information was made public on the GovTech webpage. To make the vote, or better, the investment on the projects a more interesting process, a virtual coin using blockchain technology was created, named GovTechs. People could vote on their preferred projects, by investing the GovTechs on the website. This insured the security and transparency of the all participatory process.
• The 4th, and final phase, was the ceremony that gathered hundreds of participants, on which the final six projects that made it to the final, could pitch their idea to a specialized jury, who had the responsibility of choosing the three winning projects.
To participate, either just to submit the prototypes, or just to vote / invest in the ideas, the participants only needed to create an account in the GovTech website, using the Citizen Card, or the Digital Mobile Key (DMK), which is the Portuguese mobile electronic identification and authentication instrument that allows citizens to electronically identify themselves in websites and perform public, and private, digital services, through their smartphones, tablets or laptops.
The 3rd phase of the public voting was designed to be like a game. The process was actually very simple, after creating an account on the website, the citizens automatically had a virtual wallet that they could manage, and were able to receive badges for doing determined actions. Each badge had a certain amount of GovTechs associated. For instance, when a citizen created an account in the website he received a badge with 100 GovTechs; if the login was made using the DMK, instead of the Citizens Card, he received an extra badge of 200 GovTechs; if he participated in the road show he had another badge with 100 GovTechs; if he invited a friend to participate, he was entitled to a badge of more 100 Govtechs:, 2 friends gave him 200 GovTechs, and so on. The investors could later use these virtual coins to vote / invest in the projects, or pass them to another investor of their choosing.
In the first edition, 113 prototypes were approved and 1744 people registered on the GovTech website. The winning projects were: INFORMAT – Intelligent Forest Management Technologies; Green Salt and Healthy Life for All, which intends to use Salicornia to reduce salt consumption; and Bio2Skin, a medical adhesive-related skin injuries.
The winners won a 30 000EUR award; the opportunity to showcase their solution in the Lisbon WebSummit; internationalization support; and the possibility to work with other private and public entities, testing and implementing their product, namely in developing countries, thus revitalizing the global partnership for sustainable development.
The initiative was coordinated by the Administrative Modernization Agency (AMA), which is the public institute responsible for promoting administrative modernization in Portugal, under the Secretary of State Assistant for Administrative Modernization (SSAAM). Also, Camões Institute played a central role, as the public institute from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that coordinates the international cooperation and monitors the 2030 Agenda in Portugal.
With these two public entities, both innovation and SDGs were in focus, but a third component was lacking: the private sector and reaching small and medium enterprises (SME), which was operationalized through partnership with private companies, such as Startups incubators.
The second edition was already launched by the SSAAM in March 2019, and it’s now in the first phase of the competition.
What Makes Your Project Innovative?
The project is seen as ground-breaking, not only because it’s a way of gathering innovative ideas with a strong focus on its impact in achieving a better and more sustainable future for all, but also for the way it engages the citizens and the Startup community, namely trough a very transparent voting process based on an emergent technology: blockchain.
The voting phase was designed to function as an online game, in which everyone could play and have fun participating in all the process. The goal was to engage the community in an amusing way, while promoting the SDGs and innovative solutions.
Moreover, the competition is oriented to small and medium companies with a strong focus on out of the box thinking and innovative ideas that have proven to be in line with the 2030 Agenda, and some of them have presented a very good basis of scientific research and technological capabilities, with potential to be replicated in other contexts and projects.
What is the current status of your innovation?
The 1st GovTech edition is already over. The finalists were chosen and are currently working with the Startup incubators and the Portuguese public entities that are helping their projects to take off, both nationally, as internationally.
The number of eligible projects submitted to the competition, as well as the number of participants and voters registered on the website on this first edition are considered very positive results. Because of that, there’s already an ongoing 2nd GovTech edition.
Other countries have also shown interest about the way the competition was run and the way citizens and startups have been engaged, so we’re already sharing our experience and diffusing lessons.
The use of blockchain in the voting process was also important, since this initiative served as a testing ground to experiment and test the potential of this emergent technology. The lessons drawn from it, are now going to be useful when AMA decides to use blockchain again.
Collaborations & Partnerships
The initiative was developed by AMA in coordination with the Camões Institute. Private entities in the SME community, specifically Startup incubators, were also involved, which allowed to publicize the competition and gather a significant number of projects.
Such partnerships also gave the competitors the opportunity to showcase their projects and the winners the chance to work with well-established companies, enabling new partnerships and the sharing of experiences and best practices.
Users, Stakeholders & Beneficiaries
The fact that the competition is based on the SDG’s values, means that it covers several different groups, from women, to people suffering from disabilities, to the elderly, to entrepreneurs, etc. Nevertheless, it's a competition focused on the Startup context, which are traditionally seen as a group prone to innovation, with a potential to promote a sustainable economic growth.
Results, Outcomes & Impacts
2018 was the year of the GovTech first edition. 140 projects were submitted and 113 were approved, covering all the 17 SDGs. In fact, most of the projects that were presented responded to more than one SDG’s, proving their cross-cutting nature.
1 744 people / investors were registered in the online platform, which led to the creation of 1 532 virtual wallets, the issuing of 4 963 100 Govtechs and, of those, 4 559 312 were actually invested in the projects, allowing to choose the 6 finalists. In the end, there were 3 winning projects.
Besides, the all process allowed the dissemination of the SDGs principles in a community known by its creativity, as well as the establishment of new networks and partnerships that now have the potential to innovate and work together. It gave the competitors the opportunity to showcase their projects, and gave the winners the opportunity to work with these companies, enabling the sharing of experiences and best practices.
Challenges and Failures
The use of blockchain was a challenge, mainly because the voting system had to be something replicable, secure, transparent but also user friendly. The voters had to feel comfortable using it, so the solution was to design the voting process as a game, which ended up working perfectly
Also important was a communication strategy that appealed the younger and those working in the Startup context, so it was decided to have a very informal language in all the competition communications and to really use social media and the webportal to communicate. The goal was to show that this was a light, funny and innovative initiative, open to everyone with an out-of-the-box idea. Concepts that are not usually associated with the public administration.
Finally, another challenge was to chosen the projects that could participate in the competition. There were a lot of submissions covering very different areas, so there was the need to create a multidisciplinary team to evaluate all the applications.
Conditions for Success
An initiative such as this needs to be well communicated to the public. People need to know the criterions to submit their applications, know the rules of the competition, and later know the projects in which to vote and understand all the process of the competition. That can only be possible through a well-planned communication strategy.
The top political support is also of major importance. A competition of such magnitude needs human and financial resources to succeed, as well as a dedicated team to design the all process and evaluate all the project submissions accordingly to the criterions. These types of resources are only available if the project has the political support.
Finally, the right partnerships are considered essential, not only between entities from the public administration, but also with private companies. The Startup context is a very specific one, so it’s important to engage them, namely Startup incubators, since the beginning of the project.
In Govtech, the goal was to stimulate the Startup microsystem around all the 2030 Agenda. But, competitions such as these can be organized around specific SDGs, or used to promote and stimulate other type of entities, like the academia for example. The potential to replicate this competition model is a vast one, and can only be limited by one's imagination.
The use of blockchain in the voting process is also something that served as a learning process to the Portuguese government. It was the first time a governmental initiative used blockchain, so the goal was also to test the potential of this emergent technology and have some lessons learned that can now be used in future projects.
Moreover, the competition is oriented to small and medium companies with a strong focus on out of the box thinking and some of them have presented a very good basis of scientific research and technological capabilities, with potential to be applied in other contexts and projects.
This is not the first competition directed to Startups and organized by the Portuguese government. The Startup Simplex, organized in 2016 in the scope of the Simplex program (a simplification and modernization program of the Portuguese public administration) , had some lessons learned that were very useful for the GovTech. One of the most important one was the need to only accept projects to compete, if they had a viable and working prototype and a sound business case. Otherwise, after the competition, the chance of these projects to succeed was much lower.
The use of blockchain was also of value. It was an opportunity to experiment the technology, and at the same time have a safe and transparent voting process. A process that seemed like a game to the participants, so it was easier to engage people to vote.
To partner with the right entities is paramount to the success of the initiative. As so, AMA partnered with private entities with a strong role and reputation in the SME community, specifically Startup incubators, which allowed to publicize the competition, gather a significant number of projects, and showcase the projects, enabling the establishment of future partnerships.
Other important partners of the initiative were: PME-Investiments, a public financial society whose mission is to promote the financing offer to SME; and SOFID, a development financial institution that supports investment projects of Portuguese companies in emerging and developing countries
AMA had a strong role as the project manager of GovTech, but the online platform of the competition and the voting process using blockchain was the result of a procurement process. The public tender was won by Bright Pixel, who was in charge of the technology part of the project in close coordination with the AMA Digital Transformation and Information Systems Departments.