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Collaboration and Co-Creation: Attractive Platforms for Governments and Nonprofit Organizations

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A modicum of cynicism is healthy. So, it doesn’t surprise me one bit when marketing and innovation executives ask whether collaborative innovation is here to stay, or whether it is a mere fad; here today, gone tomorrow. Personally, I don’t like to read tealeaves, but being a betting man, I am putting my money on collaboration and co-creation having a healthy and prosperous decade ahead.

Why? Because whenever a management practice finds applications in non-traditional arenas, it augurs well for its future growth. We are all very familiar with traditional corporate examples of collaboration and co-creation:

  • Unilever co-creating Marmite XO with the brand’s fanatical lovers
  • IBM co-creating action agendas through its Jams technology – like the recently held Service Jam
  • P&G’s engagement of teen girls through beinggirl.com
  • Electrolux’s annual appliance design innovation challenges conducted through Electrolux Design Labs, etc.

However, how often do we come across case studies demonstrating collaboration and co-creation in the government and non-profit sectors? Not too often. Fortunately there are. Two interesting examples follow, one just taking off and the other already generating interesting success stories.

Collaboration and India’s 12th Five-year Plan

Bureaucracies are not known for experimenting with cutting edge thinking. But the Planning Commission of India seems serious about changing that, at least in its sphere of operation. Before the Planning Commission actually starts developing the Plan, it needs to develop what is called an Approach paper, which sets out plan priorities and targets, which subsequently guide resource allocation and later serve as performance measurement benchmarks; an activity typically performed by technocrats, bureaucrats, and politicians.

For the first time however, the Planning Commission is using the platforms of collaboration and co-creation; it is reaching out to the citizens of India to help shape the Plan’s priorities and targets. Indian citizens will get to voice their opinions and ideas before the Planning Commission, concerning the contents of the Approach Paper. The Planning Commission is inviting ideas, comments, and suggestions on important themes and topics that are relevant and cut across several sectors, such as:

  • Innovation and Enterprise – Are we creating enough innovations and enterprise for inclusive and sustainable growth? If not, how can we do so?
  • Governance and Institutions – How do Government or Public Institutions affect us in different sectors? How can we make them work better?
  • Financing the Plan – What are the financial requirements, both public
    and private of achieving our targets? Can we meet them?

Commenting on this collaborative and inclusive process, Deputy Chairman of Planning Commission, Montek Singh Ahluwalia, said a special portal will be available on the Planning Commission’s website where people can drop in their suggestions. “We plan to make the process more inclusive. We invite people to comment and post their approaches on the portal. People’s suggestions will be discussed while finalizing the 12th plan.”

This program is just taking off, so its too early to tell how the citizens, collaborators in this case, will respond. In my book on Collaboration and Co-Creation, I refer to this type of commitment as a Light-level implementation.

I call it Light for several reasons:

  1. The motivation and onus for collaborating lies with the ordinary citizen. Why should they, especially if they have no confidence or trust in the Planning Commission or its intent?
  2. There is no opportunity for the citizens to debate and discuss different points of view. The opportunity for brainstorming can significantly improve the quality of submissions.
  3. Most importantly, there is no transparency once the ideas have been submitted. To a person submitting an idea or ideas, it is not clear who will read what has been submitted, how the idea(s) will be evaluated, and whether or not they will be accepted or rejected. This will undoubtedly affect the motivation to participate.
  4. There are no rewards for participation monetary or psychological. Imagine the missed opportunity here. Even a small newspaper article or mention of winning ideas on TV, with the person’s photo, would cause a huge amount of excitement and commitment.

So, yes, the Planning Commission and the Deputy Chairman need to be applauded for their enlightened thinking. However, much more can be done to transform the inclusiveness into a major creative and innovation force.

The UK Spending Review

Across the Arabian Sea and a continent away, earlier this summer, UK Prime Minister David Cameron kicked off a collaboration and consultation program, Spending Review, focused on ways to reduce government spending. The Prime Minister recognized openly that the biggest challenge UK faces is dealing with huge debts, which means reducing public spending. He also acknowledged that reducing public spending will require innovative and challenging ideas, best developed by those working on the frontline of public services, and not just by his army of economists and policy makers.

Together with Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, his office broadcast an appeal to Britain’s public service workers asking them to share their ideas on where to make spending cuts.

A Spending Challenge website was launched to solicit suggestions from Britain’s 6 million public sector workers. The challenge states that “Every single idea will be considered and the best ones taken forward by departments, the Treasury and the Cabinet Office.”  The invitation also described, in detail, the process by which ideas would be evaluated and analyzed. By all accounts the Spending Review was the most collaborative ever with an extended period of engagement over the summer between Government, experts, the public sector and the general public.

Response to the Spending Challenge was, as the Brits would say, bloody damn good! Over 100,000 ideas, including 63,000 from the Public Sector were submitted to shape the way Government works, cut the deficit, and eliminate waste. In addition to inviting suggestions, Ministers traveled the country to hear people’s ideas and opinions first hand. Finally, The Treasury received several thousand pieces of direct correspondence on specific areas of Government policy – such as health, housing and education – that led to several rounds of
productive meetings with experts in these fields.

Ideas dealing with low hanging fruit dealt with issues such as reducing dependence on paper and migrating to digital media for routine communications, resulting in savings of several million British Pounds. Other ideas dug deeper. A few examples follow:

  • reforming the Educational Maintenance Allowance (EMA) grant and child benefit
  • spending money more effectively by introducing a more preventative focus across public services, especially in public health services
  • building closer links across health and social care
  • minimising tax fraud, evasion and avoidance; a potential spending of £900 million to combat tax fraud, avoidance and evasion, could raise an estimated £7billion of extra tax revenue by 2014 (no need to compute an ROI on that).

Various government departments will continue to review ideas to identify and implement those that could help deliver further efficiencies. In the interests of transparency and openness, the UK Govt. intends to publish all of the original suggestions that met their moderation policy as a data set on data.gov.uk.

Nothing light about this implementation, very impressive indeed! In fact, to use another British expression, it is as close as you can get to a Full Monty; it meets all the criteria of the Listen-Engage-Respond framework discussed in my new book.  I am betting that applications are likely to grow around the world, and in the coming decade we should expect to see some of the most engaging and productive applications of collaboration and co-creation in the government, public, and nonprofit sectors.