Introducing Innovation in the Public Sector: Experience from the Philippines

3 min read
In our quest to understand how Labs can be used to inspire innovation in the public sector, we are interviewing practitioners who are spearheading innovation initiatives in the respective government (see here for insights from at a public sector innovation labs gathering we attended in Toronto earlier this year ).
In this interview, we turned to the Philippines, where the social innovation scene is particularly active and Senator Aquino recently submitted legislation to establish a big data center. We talked to Karl Satinitigan, Aid and Policy Officer for Social Entrepreneurship, in the Office of Senator Aquino. Karl joined the public sector after having co-founded social enterprises and programs that support them in the Philippines, including the Enchanted Farm Village University in Angat, Bulacan that seeks to build a nationwide network of rural social enterprise incubators. 

You have been spearheading the introduction of innovative approaches to policymaking in the Philippines. How did you go about socialising new ideas in government?

First of all, let me say that this has really been a team effort and our lead really is my principal, Senator Bam Aquino. Historically the participation of the private sector in governance has been crucial in the Philippines but this has meaningfully improved the last few years because the current administration has been more open to collaborating with more stakeholders. So upon entering government, we were fortunate to be part of an environment that has been more open to new ideas. This allowed us to propose new and innovative approaches to policy-making including the design-thinking framework in soliciting input from key stakeholders.

Can you tell us a bit more about the ways in which you are applying design thinking to policy making?

We apply the three major parts of the design thinking approach to policy making through the following:
(a) empathy-building by observing and interviewing key stakeholders and extreme users
(b) ideating by inviting representatives of key sectors to brainstorming sessions
(c) prototyping by designing low-fidelity versions of the different ideas and soliciting feedback from target users
We applied this approach, for example, in the design and development of Negosyo Centers (Filipino for business) in partnership with the Department of Trade and Industry, leading entrepreneurs, and designers. The first pilots of these Centers will be launched starting this August. Another example is in the roadmapping for the local music industry that we are about to initiate in the coming months. This will be followed by a collaborative summit among youth organizations pursuing innovations in disaster preparedness.
It was exciting to see government officials embrace the approach and they even suggested that they are willing to implement the same in their own initiatives. Representatives from the private sector meanwhile appreciated the fact that government was willing to explore new ways of doing things.

How do you encourage the public to bring innovations related to key public concern issues, like disaster response?

Our office has co-organized an Awards Program that recognizes inspiring youth organizations from all over the country. Many of these organizations have initiated bottom-up innovations in disaster response and we want to gather them so they may learn from one another and inspire other youth organizations to do the same.
One very interesting example is a very simple initiative by a youth organization where grade school children provide free swimming lessons for their peers. This has resulted in a zero-casualty rate among the children they have trained during the recent super typhoon. Another example is a theater group using theater improvisation techniques to equip potential victims and first responders with the right mindset within five seconds that a disaster strikes.

You recently turned your attention to applications of big data to policymaking. What steps did you take to turn this into a practice and what are the challenges you are facing?

We are still currently turning this into practice and the legislation we initiated served its purpose of jump-starting the conversation among relevant government agencies.
Some challenges we are facing include privacy issues and how best we can explain the concept of big data to a much wider audience.

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