Policy Hackathon on the Co-creation of Policy Solutions for Transformative Innovation

Policy Hackathon on the Co-creation of Policy Solutions for Transformative Innovation

Science Forum South Africa saw a presentation entitled Policy Hackathon on the Co-creation of Policy Solutions for Transformative Innovation on 08 December 2023.

Historically, policy development has involved political entities listening to experts and then rollout policies to address problems. This method is very slow due to its bureaucratic nature and may not necessarily result in policies that properly address challenges in society. A “policy hackathon” can be defined as an event where experts in specific fields of study are gathered together with other stakeholders in order to rapidly develop solutions to identified problems through the harnessing of their collective intelligence, brainstorming, and out-of-the-box thinking. The participants take a policymaker’s perspective to create and propose legislation that addresses effectively societal challenges. The result is the rapid development of solutions that, due to the collaboration of a range of experts, can be turned in to more effective policy much quicker. The concept of the hackathon originated in the software industry and has since been adapted for use in a variety of scenarios.

Co-creation is central to the practice of Transformative Innovation Policy (TIP), and a policy hackathon is a valuable tool for facilitating this collaborative approach. Policy hackathons serve as dynamic platforms for co-creating innovative policies as they facilitate the active involvement of diverse stakeholders, foster intensive collaboration, and promote the rapid development and prototyping of policy solutions that can drive transformative change within innovation ecosystems.

The presentation revealed the results of a policy hackathon in collaboration with the Transformative Innovation Policy Community of Practice in South Africa (TIP SA), the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the National Research Foundation (NRF).

The policy hackathon that took place at the NRF was a time-limited, intensive, one-day session that saw participants divided into three teams who were instructed to each come up with a policy proposal. Each of the proposals was evaluated by a judging panel according to set criteria which included factors such as clarity, viability, social inclusivity and environmental sustainability. A winning proposal was then decided on.

There were two runners-up in the recent hackathon event titled Water Forward Commitment Procurement and Transforming Communities Through Innovation Impact Fund.

Water Forward Commitment Procurement looked at ways to improve access to water and water infrastructure in Africa, particularly in rural areas. It seeks to harness the collective power of SADC countries to incentivise private sector companies to invest in research and development of innovative water delivery solutions.

Transforming Communities Through Innovation Impact Fund looked at the development of collaborations among SADC countries to channel private capital into impactful R&D projects. This would mainly involve encouraging private sector companies as well as philanthropic organisations to allocate a portion of their corporate social responsibility (CSR) budgets into supporting the fund. The advantages of such a policy include the mobilisation of private capital into R&D; an acceleration of innovation; accountability for R&D expenditure and the transformation of communities that would benefit from the results of the R&D.

The winning proposal looked at the challenges caused by a lack of regional mechanisms to support science, technology and innovation (STI); a lack of entrepreneurship; and a dearth of private sector R&D investment. It recognised that start up companies are a strong driver of STI and that a fund, called STRIVE, designed to provide mentorships and finance for start up companies, including micro and informal enterprises, across the SADC, would help to develop the region’s STI capabilities by augmenting private sector capital while at the same time emphasising the social return of R&D projects. Contributions to the fund would come from SADC countries based on their GDP and a competitive proposal process would be utilised to determine projects which would be fundable. Each participating SADC country would have its own fund board and management teams with the board having the final say over project funding.

Dr Glenda Kruss, Executive Head of the Centre for Science, Technology and Innovation Indicators (CeSTII) unit at the Human Sciences Research Council, looked back on the policy hackathon event, stating that it was an experiment in the creation of a bottom-up approach to policy development. The brainstorming that took place saw a huge number of ideas emerge. She added that the hackathon brought about a new kind of thinking.

After the proposals had been presented at the Science Forum event, a panel discussion was held with Anneline Morgan, Senior Programme Officer for Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) at the SADC Secretariat; Dr Rob Byrne, Lecturer in the Science Policy research unit at the University of Sussex in the UK; and Imraan Patel, Deputy Director general at the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) as panellists. The panel discussion looked at the importance of co-creation to the success of transformative policy and how an inclusive approach results in a broader range of perspectives. The panellists commented on the usefulness of the hackathon approach to solving the challenges facing South Africa and were impressed with the depth of thinking that emerged from it.

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