In this season, we have explored how organisations are designing collaborative approaches to address different kinds of social problems and in different sectors. All the organisations we have spoken to talk about understanding the needs of their users, about co-creating solutions with them, and about humility. In this episode, we are exploring how to build the ecosystems necessary for social change. What can we learn from the many inclusive and interesting initiatives that are bringing the citizen, the state and private sector together? How can we build networks and what are the best ways to govern these systems?
Note: Sea Change is produced for the ear and designed to be heard, not read. Readers are encouraged to listen to the show to get the full experience. The transcripts are meant as support documents and may not include inclusions from the day of recording and may contain errors. The audio version is the final version of the show. Ignore the timestamps mentioned.
SCRIPT BEGINS HERE
DON NORMAN (DN): So we do not design for people. We design with people.
HOST: This is Don Norman. He’s the director of the design lab at UC San Diego. And he’s spent his entire career thinking about how to design in a way that creates visceral responses in people.
DN: That’s a very important thing. And in fact, we call this community driven design. It has to come from the community.
HOST: In our previous episode we explored how organisations are designing collaborative approaches to address different kinds of social problems… problems in different sectors.
And the organisations we spoke to talked about understanding the needs of their users, about co-creating solutions with them… and about humility.
DN: And now there are lots of people in this world who believe this and who have already working this way.
I’m sure there are thousands of people. Thousands of people is a lot. However, it’s a small percentage. We have 7 billion people on earth. But I think a thousand people, isn’t a bad way of starting because those thousand people can bring together larger groups and more groups .
And again, slowly incrementally make some changes,
But those groups are, um, they’re difficult to run by the way, because difficult to manage, because part of the philosophy is that we don’t manage it.
HOST: Welcome back to Sea Change! A show about societal change in a digital, interconnected world, I’m Radhika Viswanathan and I’m Samyuktha Varma.
This podcast chronicles the work of governments, organizations, social entrepreneurs, philanthropists and design thinkers, all working to solve social problems at scale.
In this episode we find out, how do you build ecosystems for social change? What kind of support does it need?
Many new interesting initiatives that bring the citizen, the state and private sector together – what can we learn from them?
What can we learn from networks about the best ways to govern these systems? All this and more in our final episode of Sea Change.
HOST: The global challenges that we are facing right now… this disease that cannot be cured without joint effort, that has greatly exacerbated the severity of our underlying social and economic inequalities, this challenge needs ecosystem frameworks.
ROHINI NILEKANI (RN): This pandemic that is upon us. We really don’t know how long it will last. We also know that that is probably not the last pandemic, so it gives us a real opportunity to redesign our responses in the future, our resilience in the future… so for example during the tsunami right ? What emerged again from that was several co-created mechanisms for early alert, early warning systems, which are now very well in place. And in fact have been used in Orissa and other places where they’ve had threats of serious cyclonic storms. So together with the people together with the state, a sort of resilience framework was put in place…
HOST: Rohini Nilekani is the founder chairperson of Arghyam foundation, and as a philanthropist, she is keenly interested in how collaborative systems accelerate social change for the better. And while we know that disasters bring together the energies of the development sector
HOST: What’s the way then, to effectively respond to this disaster, given its complexity and scale?
RN: So look, what did we see when, as this pandemic started to unfold, who are the first responders out there? It was the samaaj. It was samaaj based institutions, right? They were right there at the door of the people falling sick, taking them to hospital making sure they had food and rations… why did that happen so quickly? Because there is automatic trust between the citizens and the samaaj based actors and institutions. And I think trust is the key word.
How do we deepen the trust in government institutions, how do we reduce the recent friction between samaaj organizations and state organizations so that they can work more effectively together now and for the next times to come?
So how do you rebuild that trust is by sort of unpacking elements of the distrust.
We will have to engage in, to talk across divides, to talk across suspicions, to talk beyond them and to genuinely build learning from what has happened just now and in other crises to build processes, to quickly cement trust between especially samaaj organizations and sarkar organizations and wherever needed the market as well.
That work can begin in a crisis, but must continue into the long term.
HOST: Rohini believes that societal platform thinking also allows for a different class of problems
RN: Take any sector that has common pool resource , like clean air or clean water …, in water, especially in a very diverse hydrological country, like ours, the response to a water problem, in Bihar is very different from the response required to a water problem in Rajasthan. And so to be able to start from that first mile, so if you don’t see it as a last mile, if you see it as the first mile and you start to solve from there, then you involve the actors who are closest to the problem. In Rajasthan it will be about drought, in Bihar, It is about flood and who knows the responsiveness required more than the people who are experiencing the problem themselves.
HOST: Working for the underserved is very clearly in the mandate of Omidyar Network,
ROOPA KUDVA (RK): Hi, I’m, I am Roopa Kudva. I am managing director for Omidyar network India.
Our particular focus is on the bottom 60% of India’s income distribution. And I really believe that because we focus on innovation and tech in serving this population segment, it brings all the three sectors into play.
The public, the private and the CSOs,
So that is really speaking to the fact that you can create highly affordable products, uh, catering to a population segment where traditionally people have believed that it is not possible to build a large viable and valuable business.
HOST: The challenge of addressing the needs of this group has a strong technological component. The massive proliferation of smartphones in India, where data costs are amongst the lowest in the world, has meant that businesses and governments can access this population much more easily than they could do before. But there is work to be done to better understand the lives of this group of people
RK: However, very quickly entrepreneurs have realised that this customer segment is very different from the first wave of internet users. They’re very different in terms of their educational backgrounds, their language proficiency, their education levels, their income levels and their social and cultural context is also very different. And that is why entrepreneurs now have to design businesses and solutions which are tailored for the very important differences between this population and the first wave of internet uses.
And it is resulting therefore in very fascinating business models, which actually reflect a deep, deep understanding of the digital journey of the next half billion India.
It almost requires a reimagining of the internet for the segment.
HOST: Roopa talked about the example of the ubiquitous shopping cart symbol at the top corner of all e commerce platforms. The image itself is based on the Western shopping cart, and references a very different shopping experience.
RK: The shopping experience of a person from the next half billion segment is actually walking up to a kirana store, standing behind the counter, getting served by an individual who does a selection of narrow down the selection of products and helps you make a decision.
And therefore a shopping card symbol is very alien to their life experience. Now add up a zillion little things like that and intimate, all of a sudden gets very, feels, very remote feels very inaccessible and non contextual for the next half billion.
HOST: It’s a simple example, but it speaks to the deep importance of understanding the groups you design for. And while the goal of reflecting the experiences of the next half billion is one thing, the other big challenge is to ensure that platforms do not exacerbate existing inequalities.
RK: Take the issue of women. How do you make the internet, a safe space or a perceived safe space for women from the next half billion segment with so many social beliefs, wrapped around the issue of women accessing the internet.
Will they get quote unquote exposed to bad influences…. and yet women represent 50% of the consumers in the segment. So it’s really important, not only to get them online, but to have them become comfortable online, to an extent that they start transacting online, which is why we’ve invested in many women centric platforms, Pratilipi for example, or Hilo five, which is a parenting mostly for mothers to be and mothers from smaller town, India, for example. So, you know, these are a few examples of new kinds of entrepreneurship that are emerging in India. They are also breaking many myths that you cannot build via valuable businesses targeting this segment of the population.
HOST: Entrepreneurship is built on the idea of innovation. On finding the critical gap in the long standing systems that can revolutionize the way people work and think. And there are well recorded examples, like how the introduction of hospices in the healthcare system in the UK and the US in the seventies made us completely rethink palliative care, or the contributions of microfinances and social entrepreneurship in Bangladesh that transformed the financial systems that serve the poor.
A conversation is happening now, about collaboration, amongst funding institutions. What should the funders, and supporters of these organizations do to strengthen ecosystems?
RN: I think we are also seeing philanthropists and foundations find new ways to collaborate.
And while philanthropists are learning to collaborate among themselves and respond collectively, I think it’s a great opportunity everywhere for philanthropy to now step up to underwrite more collaboration in the social sector to underwrite much more innovation and to open up their ways of giving so that it is less tight. It is more open, it is more flexible and it allows for a lot more experimentation in the social sector so that the social sector can become even better at being, not just first responders, But long term responders in a very resilient manner.
RK: But when I came to Omidyar Network India, about five years ago, I find that it is actually a platform that thrives on the interconnectedness between the private sector, the public sector and nonprofit sector, and our success actually depends on all these three sectors working together, uh, because, uh, our purpose is to invest In bold entrepreneurs who helped create a meaningful life for every Indian…
HOST: Roopa believes the post COVID world is only going to see more impact investing given to enterprises focused on the underserved, and says that Omidyar Network will assess and evaluate these investment opportunities no differently from how commercial investors typically would.
RK: And I think that is great for the entrepreneur, because I think it helps them.Observe the discipline that is required, to build a sustainable business, because only if you can build a business, which is scalable and sustainable can you really have impact?
PART – 2
HOST: Social entrepreneurship is a model that has become very popular in the past decade. As a practice, much of its appeal lies in the fact that it focuses not just on financial gain but it also addresses societal wellbeing.
But, the path that social businesses take to create long-standing sustainable change is complex and challenging. It often means taking on the social system that perpetuated the underlying problem they are trying to solve. The journey can be meandering, navigating between the smallest units of the problem – from uncollected garbage, for example, to the failures in the macro ecosystem that result in poor garbage collection – to understanding that then adversely affect public health. This means dealing with everything from the complex set of rules and policies that determine how garbage ought to be managed and all the institutions responsible for this work, back down again to the behavior of citizens. This is Kuldeep Dantewadia, founder of Reap Benefit:
KULDEEP DANTEWADIA (KD): So let me give you a very simple example. You can you’ll see garbage trash outside your house. And you, first of all, nobody knows because it will be dumped in a corner of a street, uh, or in a no man’s land where nobody has ownership of, uh, now the garbage collector might be collecting the garbage from there every single day, but the garbage just keeps on piling because the default is already there in terms of the garbage being there.
Now, as citizens, even if we solve, we know that the garbage issue will resurface two days from now, four days from now. As a garbage collector. I know that even if I collect the pile is not going to go away tomorrow or day after, so this is the inherent wickedness of this problem. And the second is because nobody owns it, you’re solving this once or twice but you have to be at it and i think that is the larger issue.
HOST: In this case Kuldeep says these public problems have no single owner – the civic duty is shared between the state and the civil society. This is why these problems are called wicked, it’s because they are linked, that every solution leads to another facet of the problem, which needs another intervention or a new perspective, or a new set of partners… and this is why they need a different approach.
KD: So most of the times we think of solutions, which are very cognitive, rational, intellectual in nature, but these problems are more dynamic, needs more of a hands on approach and to be at it
HOST: Reap Benefit is trying to recast the relationship between citizens and the government to deal with civic problems. Working from the other side – from the perspective of the state, Srinivas Katikithala is a senior official with the Government of India. And he currently is the Establishment Officer and Additional Secretary at the Department of Personnel and Training working with professional development and training for civil servants. Mr Srinivas begins by explaining to us how, in his opinion, governments used to work and communicate.
K SRINIVAS (KS): And then after so long as we did not have technology, but particularly communication technology, there was a huge degree of delegation of responsibility that was run down the vertical channel of each of these organizations.
HOST: And in the government the link between the state and the citizens, is still it is the civil service cadre, the Indian Administrative Service or the IAS,
KS: So we saw mid let’s say seventies, eighties, even early nineties, a situation where there was an interface between the citizen and the civil service, which was representing the government, which was the real point of interface. Now, when technology started enabling the citizens to interact, not just at that [00:05:00] level, but with the other levels as well, when situations become far more complex and multidisciplinary, govts also now needed to respond differently, at a larger scale, at a population scale…
HOST: Thanks to telecommunications and advancements in computing capability, the manner in which citizens and governments interact has changed quite significantly – while the social contract has stayed the same. This is what Kuldeep spoke about earlier – the evolving nature of state and society interactions.
And as Rohini points out, even within the state, governance frameworks have evolved from centralised structures to networks.
ROHINI NILEKANI (RK): So I think that governments have really come to this realization that you need to create a flexible governance structure and that it is very much possible in this digital era by creating common public shared open technology based platforms that allow you to sort of shift shapes depending on the need. Right? So you can move upwards towards centralization when there’s a national emergency, or move downwards towards decentralization as required when you need a very immediate, local and contextual response. And digital backbones allow you to do that.
KB: So, so my larger learning has been that, the citizens play a very important role in balancing the supply piece of it,
but the more you centralize it the more you don’t involve the citizens in it, the system becomes very, very fragile by nature… the more the governments decentralize it, the system becomes, antifragile and you’re not reacting to the problem, but you are actually, uh, proactively trying to solve the problem.
RN: We have seen that right now, even in the pandemic where different states panchayats and the center, were able to respond differently, but simultaneously to the needs of migrants. Whether it was to organize transport, whether it was to organize temporary shelter or whether it was to organize the rations. So I think governments have understood that you create this public digital infrastructure and you keep on adding nodes and networks to it.
HOST: What does a platform for the civil servant of today look like?
KS: I think a new paradigm is now evolving, and luckily IGOT, has anticipated this challenge, where govts have to respond, simultaneously at population scale, to problems that are happening simultaneously at every level of the population, i mean todays covid crisis is a great example of that..
First of all you do not have a sense of the temporality, what is the time span, you have no idea, second the agent that is causing it is slightly incomprehensible, and thirdly every citizen is experiencing it simultaneously, which means suddenly Govt systems, that is large public systems need to respond simultaneously at the operational level at the level of the citizen once again, so we have come a full 360 degree where we need that interface at the level where the citizen is interfacing, which means you need capability at that level, which means you also need authority at that level. At the same time, we want to ensure that the authority in so far as the relationship between the citizen and the concern is also well exercised.
HOST: This is how IGOT or the Integrated Government Online Training Programme was set up,
KS: So the idea was how do you make sure that the individual civil servant is getting back a bit of information that will make him more competent? And that point in time no matter where he is.
HOST: Because remember, Indian bureaucrats are posted across from our highest of hills to the most remote villages. And their access to this training varies widely – some would access it on a smart device. Somebody else might have a tablet. Somebody else might have a computer. Or a few would share a television. And the design of the platform has to cater for this diversity,
KS:…and then you have the next level which is what is their level of interest? What is the level, depth of knowledge that they need at that instance, which means you’re giving again a kind of a democratic choice where you’re allowing that individual to choose, what is the level of information I need to absorb for this moment for me to deliver this? So this is the architecture which responds to a large large challenge and the huge numbers of, civil servants. So this, therefore the, the way this has been designed is with the ambition of responding to the needs of an individual civil servant, no matter where mapped to the requirements of the citizen, no matter where.
HOST: One of most interesting network-based programmes to deliver medical mentoring and training is Project ECHO. What began as a local programme in New Mexico to help community health centres diagnose Hepatitis C. it has now become a worldwide movement for democratizing knowledge in medicine. We talked with Dr. Sunil Anand and Dr. Kumud Rai from ECHO India. Here’s Dr. Anand:
ECHO INDIA – SUNIL ANAND (SA): ECHO India is a not-for-profit trust was formed in 2008. And it leverages video conferencing technology for capacity building of healthcare workers.
HOST: And the model has proven to be extremely effective because of how medical education is typically structured. In medicine, teaching is still delivered by a senior doctor down to the junior doctors. ECHO disrupts these traditional hierarchies of knowledge completely, here’s Dr Kumud Rai explaining
ECHO INDIA – KUMUD RAI (KR): Instead of it being just a theoretical model… but how to apply that knowledge to your setting, to your given patient is what echo does… One of the very important thing is that during the, during the meetings, there’s a dialogue, there’s a conversation wherein the spokes or the learners are actually encouraged to present their cases. And these are real life cases. And if you sought out a real life problem, that remains imprinted in your mind for a very, very long time.
HOST: Given the constantly evolving body of knowledge on coronavirus, doctors are constantly having to learn about the disease in real time and discuss and share findings with their peers. This is what the ECHO model does so well.
ECHO INDIA – KUMUD RAI (KR): And we have found that that is a great motivator for these people to learn things, … i mean you can learn both ways, you can learn by the whip and you can learn by my love and affection. And so this is the model which encourages people to think, which encourages people to solve their own problems. And gently keeps on supporting them, nudging them,
HOST: Today, because of the pandemic we find ourselves in, the ability to deliver healthcare remotely has become essential. And it is only a matter of time before public health systems across the world make this a part of their programme
KR: Now, when this thing hit. We keep our daily record. And, you know, we have crossed more than 600 clinics in this time…So all our staff or most of our staff is supporting these clinics, and as we said in some of them, there are literally thousands of people joining in, in one there were more than 5000 people who joined…
HOST: ECHO’s model has been surprisingly effective at responding quickly and adeptly, and has demonstrated how it fits into ecosystems for public health. When we spoke to them in May, ECHO had already trained thousands of key medical workers over 255,000 of them – 70,000 doctors, 150000 frontline workers, and create a platform for them to constantly share and learn.
One of their early trainings was on the appropriate use of ventilators for the disease. And this kind of training is not theoretical, cannot be learnt from a textbook. It needs to be taught live, taught by one doctor to another.
KR: But in COVID for For example, when the aiims doctors were conducting this ventilation clinic. So, so when they were trying to teach them some of the settings on that ventilator, so one of the persons said, uh, dr. V, we understand the theory part of it . You have pulled as the switches, you have this, this, but can you explain us a little bit of science about it. How do I actually change the settings and all so immediately a white board was arranged and the doctor actually drew diagrams on that. And explain to that worker, addressed his question in practical terms that what would be the settings on the ventilator, if things moved from one point to the other and how he could do it?
But this is kind of versatility of the model that you can use this virtual training. If it’s a pure webinar, you never do it, at best, you’ll put some slides and show a slide show and that,
But here is in real time you can address the problem immediately,
Explain the science behind it in an interactive manner so that the person is satisfied that he’s understood that. So I think that is one of the great strengths of the model.
That apart from being a pure didactic model, it is a very interactive model.
HOST: ECHO’s success is really about understanding how to scale learning – their tagline is ‘move knowledge not people’.
SA: How would you get this model in where people are not being taught, we’re not disseminating information, we’re helping you implement best practices. That’s the big difference it makes. So let’s say it wasn’t there, How would you train such a large number of people face to face? You cannot do it right. Now, It’s not only video conference, the echo model by coming in and sorting out you problem.
That’s how you will learn. Right?
PART – 4 Governance
HOST: Platforms like the ones we’ve talked to over the series, Digital Green’s Farmstack, and Diksha the teacher training platform, adopt the principles of an open public good. This means that they create value for all users and allow for participation by actors. Open infrastructures help different ecosystem actors co-create solutions that can reach millions of people. In other words, a solution solves whereas an infrastructure helps different people solve.
But there is a debate about the best ways to govern these systems.
RK: So when we talk about an open digital ecosystem, it has three layers.
Firstly, Iayer is the public digital infrastructure itself. The second layer is what we referred to as the governance layer. And this is the layer, which is very vital in protection from harms. And then it will have a total layer, which is the community layer, which is very important to ensure that the public digital infrastructure that is created just doesn’t remain a white elephant, but actually gets used that the community engages with that infrastructure to being new solutions and also the community engages with that infrastructure to bring new solutions and also the community engages with that infrastructure. To make sure that it is protecting users and the public at large from harm.
HOST: This question is critical – how will it enable and empower or limit the possibilities of individual actors in the system? Sangeet Paul Chaudhary is one of the foremost platform strategists and a co-author of the widely read book Platform Revolution. He says that the answer lies in thinking about openness and control, and on the importance of managing both:
SANGEET PAUL CHOUDARY (SPC): The reason I find the topic of digital public goods and data, public infrastructure, so interesting is because, u there are always two sides, or two perspectives on any digital public goods strategy. There is the perspective of large scale enablement and empowerment that is possible by applying open digital public goods.
And by proliferating them. And there is the, the contrasting perspective that whenever something is open, digital and public, there’s a potential for a complementary control point to be created. And. If you are a regulator or if you are somebody who is interested in the success of the ecosystem, you need to ensure that those control points do not exploit the ecosystem at any point.
HOST: So why is it important to ask and address this question right now?
SPC: Managing these two perspectives of how public infrastructure leads to large scale development, large scale empowerment… but at the same time it has the potential to create large scale dependence. It’s that tension that is at the heart of a lot of debate today from thinking of how to achieve the UN sustainable development goals using digital public goods to thinking of antitrust actions against large platforms.
All of this is fundamentally around this tension between openness and control.
HOST: You can build greater agency within a system when you design with the intention for stakeholders to jointly own and contribute. There are many perspectives on how this could play out. Sangeet brings up the example of Wikipedia, which is one of the greatest examples of distributed editorial co-curation:
SPC: They’ve had to rely ont he reputation system..that despite being a platform, the governance has become a hierarchy instead of the hierarchy being in an organization. It’s spread across the ecosystem, but it’s still very much a hierarchy of a few hundred people around the world who control the workings of Wikipedia. So the challenge with designing access and decision rightsas reputation systems in a platform is that eventually you start losing the advantages of an open public infrastructure and you start treading into traditional organizational models, top down management, you start retreating into all of those traditional frameworks.
HOST: But there are ways to offset these effects. When you scale in a system like this, some level of hierarchy emerges; which in turn can limit agency and initiative… but when designing the governance framework, are there ways to make sure the scaling up continues to encourage and support the contributions of all?
Sangeet explains one possible way forward, because the power of individuals within a big system resides in their reputations, their relationships with collaborators. One way of thinking about governance is to base it on peer recognition.
SPC: What’s really important in building a societal platform kind of a model, is to really think through how you would design the reputation as a completely peer to peer peer owned the source
Peer owned reputation system would be one way. That reputation system itself would become a public data infrastructure as well, where peers in the community would have the ability not just to be legal? little and their decision rights managed to the reputation system, but they would also have the ability to innovate around it because it’s a public digital good.
HOST: But systems DO require leadership and this is where the interplay of the rules of hierarchies and networks comes into question. To find out more about what that could look like, we spoke to Anne-Marie Slaughter – she is the CEO of New America. In her work as a political scientist, she studied the power of networks, and tried to understand what kind of leadership a network needs, so that it can create spaces where everyone can participate equitably.
ANNE-MARIE SLAUGHTER (AMS): Clarifying, the goal is hugely important.
If you just think about a group of friends who are going out, I want to do something. How do you make sure everybody does the same thing? And something that makes everybody happy. You have to really clarify what people want. And some people may not want the same thing. And then that’s. Fine, but they shouldn’t then be part of a particular network.
Because you cannot lead a network where everybody’s going in a different direction.
A network leader really leads by catalyzing the action of other people.
And again, you can not command it. You cannot say, I want this done by that day, you know, or you’re fired.
You don’t have that kind of the power. What you do have is the power of enabling the action of others, of unlocking their power, their creativity, their energy. You may get things that are different than what you expected, but they will be wonderful.
HOST: We are witnessing societies across the world grapple with inequality… there is a strong need for leadership that sees shared ownership of solutions and inclusion as an imperative.
AMS: It is absolutely imperative for all of us in our organizations, in our communities, in our countries and in the world to harness all of the talent that we are not tapping right now. There is much more room for young people, for people of color, for women, for disabled people, for all the people who have felt that they are at the bottom of the hierarchy or that they are on the margins of society. We can connect them in ways that tap their talent and energy and creativity and intelligence. And we will then all benefit from that tremendously diverse, uh, really multitalented collection of people…It’s connecting those who are on, on the margins. Who’ve been ignored who at the bottom and bringing them as close to the center as we can.
DN: But there have to be some kind of management and boundaries… But what we want to do is have a very different administrative structure, very different philosophy that this is aimed by the people for the people.
HOST: Don Norman thinks about this a lot and he says you have to imagine it.
DN: It’s important to be enthusiastic. That doesn’t mean we know the answers. We don’t know the answer and that’s important. It’s important that we say we do not know the answers because that kept keeps us flexible that as we are implementing and doing things, we know we’re going to be learning all the time and modifying and changing.that’s a very important part of the philosophy
HOST: This philosophy, needs a vision, that defines what can be achieved through collaboration. But as simple as the idea is, it is hard to execute.
The crisis we are in now affects everybody. Everybody is vulnerable, and all barriers are down. And in some way, the separations that have divided us, have collapsed, opening up a path for a new way.
RN: We’ve also learned a new language of social protection and personal responsibility. Then we can all use. What if we thought about other complex problems also in this way that actually, whether it’s education, health, or livelihoods or climate, actually, they affect us all in some way or another. And so if we can find ways to work together to create a new language of problem solving which allows us to listen to people who are affected, not leave out some people, include as many actors as you can, perhaps perhaps the complexity of those problems will look less frightening. So I think in some way, this pandemic allows us an opportunity to break through into new ways of thinking of working together as humanity, as society, as samaaj.
I really believe that.
n.b: This episode was amended on August 14 2020.