July 1, 2014

Introducing Mexico’s Agentes de Innovación

Mexico City is a beautiful, vibrant, historical city with a great climate and even better food. But for me, it’s also the first city where I lived as a working professional instead of a student, doing work that would influence the rest of my career. (I learned the word for “deliverable” in Spanish before I knew what it was in English.) That’s why it was a delight for me to return to Mexico City with Reboot last month as part of a new project (and not just for the opportunity to visit all my favorite taquerías).

This time, I was there for the launch of Agentes de Innovación, a civic innovation fellowship led by the Coordinación de Estrategia Digital Nacional (CEDN, the Coordination for the National Digital Strategy, for you non-Spanish speakers.) Reboot will be a process research partner, accompanying the implementation of the program to understand the human, contextual, and institutional factors that influence its outcomes. We will be documenting and sharing our findings with the goal of advancing the collective knowledge of those in the civic innovation and open government space. Over the course of two and half weeks, we have already learned a great deal about the program and its participants.

Research on public sector innovation (see this literature review by Bekkers, Tummers, and Voorberg) points to a range of potential barriers such as a risk-averse environment, the existence of rule-driven path dependencies, and dominant civil service cultures, all of which inhibit innovation rather than foster it. Innovation initiatives often hope to help address these barriers by introducing outside talent and new ways of working to the public sector.

In this way, Agentes de Innovación shares much in common with similar fellowships like the Presidential Innovation Fellows or the “Code for…” model. It is structured as a civic innovation fellowship that will leverage technology to address pressing problems that are a priority for the Mexican government. The program is being implemented by Coordinación de Estrategia Digital Nacional, a group within the Office of the President that was formed to support the implementation of the National Digital Strategy.

One of the unique features of the program, however, is that it focuses not only on bringing in outside innovators but also on supporting the innovators already working inside of government. The program’s explicit goal is to create a mechanism for the co-creation of solutions to problems facing the public, and it stresses the importance of open innovation that brings together ideas from both inside and outside of government. The Agentes program has identified five innovative individuals already working within government, and paired each of them with someone currently working outside of government. The issues these teams will address are components of the National Digital Strategy and span health, education, citizen security, finance, and entrepreneurship.

In speaking with the internal and external Agentes, as well as members of their extended teams, it was clear that participants are excited to start the process of solving their teams’ target problems. Many spoke with enthusiasm (and some with surprise) about the government’s willingness to create a space to test new approaches to problem solving. Just about all of them felt it was sorely needed. The design of the program stresses the idea of the “co-responsibility” (of both government and citizens) for improving government, and Agentes from both sides of that coin were excited to take on their roles.

Reboot has previously written on the bounty of civic innovation initiatives that cropped up globally in recent years. What has not proliferated so quickly, however, is the body of research to document the lessons learned from implementing them. When it comes to motivations and program design, many of them have similar raw ingredients—open data, technology-based solutions, open government, etc. These are all ideas that seem to have the potential to reinvigorate governments, but they are no guarantee. This is why Reboot is excited to be undertaking deep research on the implementation of the Agentes program, drawing lessons that will be relevant not only to improving the program itself but also to the larger open government and civic innovation communities.

As we learn, we’ll be reporting back regularly here.

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