A time of crisis can shine a spotlight on the quality of services offered by governments. As is the case during the COVID-19 pandemic, some governments are faced with unprecedented challenges that are hard to address due to unpreparedness and absence of appropriate response mechanisms.
To overcome the COVID-19 pandemic, “Impact For Development” (IFD), an NGO based in Morocco, has implemented an open innovation approach to promote the role of civil society as a partner of the government. This approach was inspired by the historic role of civil society in crisis management (like conflicts and natural disasters) where it leveraged its solid understanding of the local needs and its power to mobilize quickly to offer and implement pragmatic solutions.
In March 2020, one week after the declaration of lockdown in Morocco, IFD built an open innovation online platform called mobadarat.ma (or “initiatives” in Arabic) to unleash the power of the collective intelligence of the community and appropriately address the effects of COVID-19 in Morocco. Given the importance of applied research in this context, the platform was launched in partnership with two leading universities: the School of Collective Intelligence of University Mohammed VI Polytechnique and Al Akhawayn University.
The Mobadarat platform offers three technical features:
Ideation: Through this classical crowdsourcing technique well documented in the OGP co-creation toolkit, citizens can share ideas and proposals regarding different problems that have emerged during this unprecedented crisis.
Initiatives Observatory (Bottom-Up approach): Because various open government stakeholders (including citizens, researchers, civil society organizations and private sector actors) have been collectively and proactively trying to tackle the pandemic, the platform has been utilized as an innovative tool to collect and publish lessons learned. This enabled cross learning and knowledge exchange, in addition to establishing the foundation of a new community of changemakers. This feature was inspired by the OECD Observatory of Public Sector Innovation.
Open Challenges (Top-Down approach): Decision-makers can also use the platform as a space to share their challenges and ask the community to submit their proposals and solutions. In this context, IFD, in partnership with Al Akhawayn University, has launched the SDG Youth Innovation Challenge in order to engage youth in solving Sustainable Development challenges related to education, health, economy, public services and the digital transformation.
Two months after we launched the platform, we noticed that the community proposed measures to counter fake news, enhance research on the psychological effects of confinement and advocate for the use of data science for prediction. However, there were three main areas of high interest to the community:
Health: A community of open source developers and open hardware builders mobilized to create and produce masks and ventilators. This community includes a partnership between a network of engineers with 3D printers and FabLabs. The government also had a quick reaction and crucial role in scaling up the production of these masks.
Education: Education was particularly hindered during the pandemic. An initiative was led by the University Mohammed VI6 Polytechnique to transition the regular high school curriculum into an innovative and digitized format.
Social Solidarity: Civil society has been instrumental in providing assistance to vulnerable populations. A number of online platforms were marketplaces, launched to facilitate the connection between providers and requesters including PackSocial, M3akoum, Mosanada, Yatimi, and Innovarius. In partnership with local CSOs in the city of Tanger, IFD also launched Yaqada.org, which means “vigilance” in Arabic. Yadaqa acts as a watchdog initiative, aiming to mobilize the community to respect the prevention measures (social distancing, wearing masks, etc.) and advocate for better government actions to enforce them. It is worth noting that Ushahidi, an African born mapping platform, was used to collect and analyze the community data.
Based on this experience, it was clear to us that the transition from an open government to an open ecosystem can be achieved by extending the application of the principles of openness and innovation beyond the public sector to all actors including academia, civil society and the private sector. Concepts such as “open science”, “citizen science” and “frugal innovation” are emphasized in this context and require broadening the reach of civil society actors. In addition to the classical OGP players (advocates of transparency and human rights), new actors, including researchers, engineers, doctors and educators, should play explicit roles in the open ecosystem.
This experience also evidenced the need to break the innovation silos. Since the virus knows no borders, the approach and resulting actions should have an encompassing and comprehensive basis. An international, open innovation framework would accelerate the knowledge transfer and reduce the development gaps.
Governments have already built spaces for exchange. For instance, Morocco has assisted 15 African countries with medical equipment. To build on this momentum and push the open innovation agenda forward, an international multi-stakeholder forum is critically needed to push the open innovation agenda forward.
IFD is currently engaged in discussions with the MIT Center of Collective Innovation and the UAE university Science and Innovation Park revolving around bridging the silos of national, open innovation and building a model that promotes universal open knowledge learning.
However, the discussions and efforts around open innovation should not be solely focused around the COVID-19 crisis. The OGP platform offers a suitable framework to enable and implement its universal vision.