The Design Public Conclave, which opens at the National Museum this Friday, will explore the role of innovation to enhance delivery of services to citizens

Many European countries have government-supported design conglomerations for the purposes of enhancing business and the government's interface with the public.

Design Council in the UK not only works to create public identities but also helps formulate national design strategies that help the United Kingdom to differentiate its national brand and achieve broad national benefits. Elsewhere in the UK, a private organization, Think Public, and various governmental agencies, are working through a consultative approach with citizens to better target governmental services so as to maximize citizen benefits.

In Denmark, three national ministries came together to establish an internal innovation center called Mind Lab, which seeks to discover and implement new and improved means for the delivery of social and welfare services to its citizens.

In the context of public health, the first major public health information system has been built in Canada, and in many ways it may serve as a reference and benchmark for other countries around the world. The first deployment of a public health information system in developing country contexts is in Ghana, where a specialized Resource Center is even now being conceived to enable the support and further development of this new system.

In India, early innovation research and concept development activities by the Center for Knowledge Societies for the Gates Foundation has shown promising results in terms of new opportunities to enhance the quality of health care delivery through a pilot project in Bihar, using the tools and techniques of ethnography, design, and user experience enhancement.

CKS has hosted innovation workshops with international health experts, public officials and other stakeholders to envision new kinds of technologies and solutions for improving public health delivery. At the same time, it learnt more about how governments change and how they acquire new skills, values, aptitudes and ways of working.

In the Indian context most of the social, economic and even technological change over the past two years has come about through the efforts of the private sector. Consequently, government in India has come to expect to be changed by the private sector.

If governments in India or other regions of South Asia or the wider emerging economy world are to become more innovation oriented and innovation focused, this will only occur due thanks to new kinds of consortia and public-private-social partnerships, which together bring a new kind of culture of innovation into being.

But none of this can happen without a more widespread transformation of India into a society that welcomes innovation, believes in the possibility of social change, and approaches difficult challenges with a light optimism and spirit of collaboration.

One of the most important lessons, through the first edition of Design Public, was that the creativity and innovativeness of governments is directly linked to the society and economy within which they are situated. One cannot have innovative government without a broader economic and social context which supports, rewards and therefore reinforces the virtuous cycle of innovation.

The Bihar innovation

One approach which has recently emerged from this process is represented by the Bihar Innovation Lab, an initiative of the Center for Knowledge Societies with support from the Gates Foundation and the Government of Bihar. This lab is founded not in conventional approaches to fundamental science and technology research, but in ethnography, design, and user-experience modelling, the building blocks of true innovation.

The goals of the Bihar Innovation Lab are three-fold: to develop new technologies that can save the lives of mothers and children in rural areas, to identify new needs and therefore new opportunities for innovation, and finally to train government and social sector health cadres in what innovation is, how it works and how they too can do it. That is the kind of inclusive, participatory and trust-based approach that can really change how society and government work, and work together.

In the absence of trust and participation in public life, India cannot emerge as an innovation society. Preceding editions of Design Public have led to this insight. Friday's event will try to explore ways to create a culture of trust as well as new channels for participation and interaction between government, industry and society.

(Aditya Dev Sood is convenor of the Design Public Conclave. He runs the consultancy Center for Knowledge Societies.)