Challenging the day-to-day life of public officials in Latin America, on September 30, the Latin American and Caribbean Hub for Transformative Innovation Policy (HUBLAyCTIP) launched a call for public policy initiatives seeking to use the Transformative Innovation framework (IT). The goal was to guide initiatives’ actions towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). The challenge was twofold, that the assistants had available 3 half days to participate in theoretical-practical sessions, and that they were willing to use IT concepts to reflect on and reconsider the proposed initiatives. The invitation was to rethink the assumptions and ways of understanding policy interventions. 8 initiatives were selected, and 7 accepted the challenge and participated in the workshop sessions between October 12 and 14, with 25 participants in total.
The aspirations and policy narratives postulated and worked on during the workshop account for a new STI agenda in Latin America framed by the SDGs. The initiatives address issues of productive development and agriculture, environmental pollution, tropical dry forest biodiversity conservation, protection and inclusion of ancestral knowledge, as well as organizational changes to enhance the impact of community-based and grassroots STI support programs around water use and energy access. This diverse portfolio showed some principles of TIP. However, aspects like systemic vision, directionality, and bottom-up policy conception were less evident among the initiatives. These aspects were widely discussed during the sessions as they are TIP principles.
Tools to Support the Formulation and Implementation of TIP
The workshop was designed to facilitate dialogue and reflection by public policy actors through practical exercises based on TIP methodology and conceptual framework. The three days began with an introductory seminar on the main concepts to be used during the practical exercise where each team worked around their initiative with the support of one or two facilitators. To this end, HUBLAyCTIP designed interactive tools around the main concepts of TIP that guided group work and collective reflection in plenary sessions.
As an introduction to TIP, Session I addressed the principles of transformative innovation. Participants reviewed which of these principles were present in their initiatives using the radar diagram in Figure 1. Each initiative evaluated the presence of directionality, systemic change, spaces for learning and reflection, social challenge, inclusivity, change of networks and conflict vs. consensus. Given that several initiatives were in the design phase, the scores reflected the desire of officials to implement inclusive actions that foster learning and embrace consensus and conflict. The narratives and practices revealed some contradictions though. According to the facilitators, understanding the importance of directionality in STI policy and facilitating deep learning was challenging for participants. For example, consider other forms of agriculture (agroecology or regenerative agriculture), and not only scale agriculture as the main alternative for regional agricultural development was one of the directionality cases addressed. As well as the use of scientific knowledge at the expense of the ancestral in the approach of public health problems. This is the type of discussion that the TIP fosters in addressing the SDGs.
Session II addressed systemic change and the discovery and strengthening of transformative niches. TIP seeks systemic changes to replace unsustainable practices, and the concept of niches are essential to create the conditions that give rise to a new configuration of the system. Figure 2 shows the systemic vision diagram that was used to facilitate the analysis. The yellow dots show the system aspects identified by a team within their initiative. The participants identified this exercise in the evaluation of the workshop as one of the most useful. In general, the initiatives partially addressed most of the system components. New consumers and alternative market forms were the least considered elements. This first exercise made progress in the Avatars activity (second exercise of the session), where participants had the opportunity to recognize other components that they could integrate into activities, actors involved and resources needed towards a more systemic vision of the initiative. According to some participants, this exercise helped them deepen their understanding of the transformative principles discussed in session I.
Session III started with an open discussion among participants about previous session findings. The objective was to select and articulate actions identified in session II with some of the Transformative Outcomes to outline policy interventions. For this purpose, the Transformative Outcomes diagram, Figure 4, was designed to illustrate the three major blocks that guide transitions: fostering and supporting niches, expanding and institutionalizing niches, and opening and dismantling regimes. The reflection and exercise focused on how public policy can support emerging initiatives for sustainable development shielding, networking, circulation, and replication were some of the interventions visualized by one of the groups, as seen in Figure 4.
Some of the impressions of the participants were:
“We are taking away a much deeper look at politics”.
(Participant of the Regional Autonomous Corporation CAR Cundinamarca);
“[This vision] forces us to reconfigure the city approach”.
(Participant Cali City Hall);
“The vision of the logical framework limits the vision of Transformative Outcomes […] […] Rigidity is an important limitation for transformation. The introduction of learning is important, and we had not incorporated it”.
(Minister of Science Participant).
The plenary discussions and conclusions of the participants indicate the need to rethink the linear formulation of the Science, Technology and Innovation policy defined as,
diagnosis and design, formulation, implementation and evaluation, to allocate experimentation and evaluation as essential processes that facilitate the definition of interventions and the continuous participation of different actors conducive to change.
To this end, transformative outcomes provide a guide for policy intervention and experimentation, with a more holistic perspective for policy design than the offered by market failures which are used extensively as the core of public policies design and implementation. This is part of HUBLAyCTIP’s work agenda for next year, perhaps in collaboration with some of the participants of this workshop.
Being the first HUBLAyCTIP engagement with public policy actors, the effort was focused on providing an agenda and tools that, based on a solid methodology and conceptual framework, would facilitate a dialogue with actors whose language, narratives and forms of action are far from the academic scope.
To appraise the achievements of this objective and the possibilities of future work, HUBLAyCTIP carried out a survey to the participants with questions about the quality and usefulness of the theoretical and practical sessions (Figure 5), the complexity of the concepts and how they want to use them in their policy practices (Figure 6). A total of 17 questions were answered by the institutions participating. The evaluation highlights the areas where more work is required, for example, to “translate” the concepts of “Transformative Outcomes”, socio-technical system and niches. Perhaps through examples that can establish its relationship with practical aspects of the exercise of public policy. Despite having been the most difficult concepts, according to the responses, they are also the ones that generated great interest to be used in strengthening the initiatives proposed. This is one of the HUBLAyCTIP priorities, which hopes to materialize in the TIP Laboratory that will be live before the end of the HUB’s second year. Finally, 80% of the institutions are interested in continuing the work done during the workshop (figure 7), and some have already started conversations with the HUBLAyCTIP. The integration of public policy actors will allow creating a set of pioneering experiences in Latin America that will contribute to nurture, expand and consolidate this community of practice around TIP.