Accelerating Innovation in Bhutan

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To find innovative ways to help countries come up with radical approaches to address complex and unpredictable development challenges in today’s fast changing world, a workshop as part of UNDP’s initiative in collaboration with the Gross National Happiness Commission (GNHC) was held in Thimphu.

It was aimed at helping UNDP Bhutan develop a roadmap to accelerate innovation in their work to solve challenges in better ways and to reflect on how they can organize themselves to spot emerging, future trends and respond swiftly.

According to the Head of the Regional Innovation Centre (RIC) at UNDP Asia Pacific, Giulio Quaggiotto, innovation has a direction and the governments have an important role to play in shaping and driving it.

“The traditional tools that governments have at their disposal to make sense of the world and navigate the complexities of the constantly shifting context around us are under strain and cracking under pressure. They are not designed for today’s fast changing world and its complex and unpredictable challenges,” he said.

Giulio Quaggiotto familiarized the participants with the trends in public sector innovation and how countries around the world are embracing innovation as a tool for development and creating conditions for innovation in the government.

Sharing the perspectives on innovation in the public sector in Bhutan, the Chairperson of RCSC, Karma Hamu Dorjee said going forward in today’s VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous) world, if the country is to continue to go from strength to strength and fulfill the aspirations of His Majesty The King, there is substantial work to be done and many risks that must be addressed.

“We must embrace innovation and transformation to deliver more effective, timely and responsive services,” she said.

She highlighted several initiatives the RCSC has taken to foster innovation in the Civil Service, including the introduction of design thinking to promote citizen centric mind-set to embrace creativity and change.

“During the tenure of the past Commission, an effort to appoint an innovation and creativity officer was initiated.  However, civil servants volunteering for this position was not forthcoming neither did RCSC have a clear framework on how to go about it.  We are currently working on how to revitalize this initiative and this workshop could provide us vital inputs,” the RCSC Chairperson.

However, to remain a relevant and effective partner, UNDP globally has launched 60 accelerators labs to help 78 countries explore challenges within local contexts to identify connections and patterns, map solutions and then experiment these solutions to see if it works or doesn’t.

UNDP Resident Representative, Ms. Azusa Kubota said that the world is transforming at a very high speed. The formidable disruptive forces of the 21st century are creating, in a radical way, new realities for our future. There is a need for us to drastically reframe our development pathway.

“Challenges faced today have not been seen before, and are inter-connected and highly complex, and therefore, conventional ways of planning, designing interventions, and monitoring and evaluating will not allow us and the government to keep up with the rate of changes happening in the world,” Azusa Kubota said.

Meanwhile, Bhutan is not among the identified 60 accelerator labs, but UNDP Bhutan is exploring partnerships to help the Royal Government of Bhutan in addressing complex challenges through systems thinking and design, a new holistic approach that not only looks at mapping the system but also identifying leverage points for experimentation.

For instance, the Government has identified addressing youth unemployment as one of the top priorities in the 12th Five Year Plan. Youth unemployment is a complex and dynamic challenge. In partnership with the Government, UNDP has initiated the process of systems mapping of youth unemployment.

This will help in understanding the complexity of youth unemployment, identify connections and gaps in the system and find leverage points to figure out a workable solution and experiment those solutions to test feasibility, iterate and adapt.

There were about 70 participants in the workshop comprising senior government officials, including the Minister for Economic Affairs and Chairperson of the Royal Civil Service Commission (RCSC), representatives from the Parliament, CSOs, UN Agencies and other multilateral agencies, local innovators and other key stakeholders.

Kinley Yonten from Thimphu

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