September 23, 2014

Field Diary: Driving Questions from Agentes de Innovación

Last time I wrote about Mexico’s Agentes de Innovación program, the teams had only just begun the co-creation process that the program hopes to encourage. Over the past several months, the teams have been hard at work further defining the problems  they want to tackle, and beginning to ideate around potential products that they might develop.

Each of the teams was initially assigned an (ambitious) overarching theme taken from the country’s National Digital Strategy, which they then narrowed down to (almost-equally ambitious!) driving questions. During the first months of the program, the teams were asked to apply the human-centered design methodology to their issues by undertaking research on the needs of their target users. The projects have continued to evolve based on this research, as well as ongoing conversations within each of the host agencies and the teams’ considerations of priorities and constraints.

Here’s a rundown on the latest updates from the different teams:

Each of the teams has undertaken user research in their own way. As part of our own process, the Reboot team did some user research of our own in order to have a benchmark that we might use to better understand the teams’ design processes and decisions. In a wide-ranging  (but, at only one week long, unusually short) research sprint, we conducted some 50 interviews across five locations.

We spoke to citizens relaxing in Puebla’s main square about citizen security, expectant mothers in Toluca about their experience of maternal care in primary clinics within the Mexican Social Security healthcare system, high school students in Mexico City about their expectations for the future, and entrepreneurs attending the “Week of the Entrepreneur” event in Mexico City about their experience accessing financial and other support.

Besides some intriguing findings for each of the individual projects, we were also left with some questions that we think are relevant for many in the sector trying to incorporate innovative processes.

  1. When is the appropriate time to introduce technology to an innovation process? The great potential of technology can make it tempting to start with the assumption of a technology product or platform. When the real pain point is systemic or policy-related, the real power of technology may be as a tool to facilitate policy or behavior change rather than an end in itself.

  1. Must an empathetic process produce an empathetic service? Human-centered design doesn’t always mean “be more human.” Sometimes, optimizing for the user just means something fast and intuitive—a two-click online solution rather than a phone call with a caring but chatty administrator, for example.

  1. What are the limits of a protected innovation environment? Structured public innovation programs, like Agentes, often seek to create a protected space in which to incubate new ideas and approaches. At some point, however, any solution produced through such a process will have to be released into the wild and put to the test. We’re continuing to explore how innovators in the public sector can come to understand the necessary institutional prerequisites for (and the potential threats to) a product’s success, even while it is still being incubated.

Next week, the Agentes teams will present their projects at Condatos, the Latin America Open Data Conference, being held in Mexico City. We’re excited to see what they’ve been designing, and will report back more here. In the meantime, tell us what you think about the questions above.

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