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:
The Universal Health team is working within IMSS, The Mexican Social Security Institute. They are asking, “How, through social innovation, can we bring IMSS services closer to the citizen?” In particular, they are focusing on the experience of maternity care for women at IMSS clinics. Maternity care at IMSS isn’t only for those women who expect to deliver at an IMSS clinic. Many more than that attend clinics for pre-natal visits, as it is a requirement that working women must complete to request official maternity leave benefits. The team is hoping to tackle both the administrative process and the care received by patients.
The team focused on Citizen Security is linked with the Ministry of the Interior. Their team is asking, “How can we involve citizens in the prevention of violence?” This team’s intervention is based on an existing platform, CIC, which allows citizens to anonymously report everything from traffic to criminal activity and has had great success in Monterrey, Mexico.
The team taking on Governmental Transformation is housed at the Finance Ministry, specifically within the group responsible for performance management of programs that are part of the federal budget. The team is asking, “How can we integrate levels of satisfaction and feedback from citizens on budgeted programs into the evaluation of their performance?” They will develop a way for program beneficiaries to provide feedback on the programs they use.
The Digital Economy team is based at the National Institute for the Entrepreneur. Given this affiliation, the project is focused specifically on the National Entrepreneurs Fund, which has a budget of nearly 9.4 billion pesos (over 710 million USD) for 2014. Their team has identified a need to improve entrepreneurs’ experience of the fund’s application and tracking process. They are asking, “How can we create a system for the Entrepreneurs Fund that facilitates and makes transparent the process for Mexican entrepreneurs?”
The Quality Education team, whose internal Agente works in the Educational Television section of the Ministry of Education, asked the question, “How can we rethink distance education based on new technological tools?” The team has decided to focus on the issue of students who are at risk for dropping out of school, and how they might be supported and inspired outside of the classroom.
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.
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.
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.
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.