…Innovators have found themselves facing a dilemma. Many of the challenges they work on spread across borders. One-country solutions are often likely to be sub-optimal. At the very least innovators need to learn from others facing similar dilemmas. But it’s even better if they can pool resources, data and capacities… As a result, we are in an era when what is sometimes called micro or mini-lateralism has become more common: nations or cities joining together in smaller groups to solve problems.
This report is very timely and describes out an important aspect of mini-lateralism: how a new field of cross-border innovation is evolving. It documents a remarkable range of initiatives springing up around the world, in very diverse fields and points to the possible implications…
A distinctive spirit marks many of these initiatives… There’s a striking commitment to openness – most of these initiatives are transparent and many use open data in its various forms… Another part of this spirit is the commitment to the principles of collective intelligence – the idea that the best solutions will probably come from outside government itself… There’s also a distinctive democratic impulse behind many of these initiatives – a desire to engage citizens in the work of solving problems…
None of these initiatives is easy. Any kind of innovation in the public sector requires the fuel of authority, resources and skills to make it happen, and these are bound to be harder to mobilise when multiple governments are involved. They’re also hard because, the closer you get to action on any scale, the more obvious it becomes that some of the ideals of agile government are in tension with each other. Top-down missions can clash with bottom-up customer responsiveness; the desire to draw on evidence can clash with politics and with speed… But any reader of this report will soon get a feel for the energy, diversity and spirit of these new cross-border innovations…
So what does this all mean? And what challenges does it throw up? One, which the report identifies, is a challenge of skills… A second challenge is how to institutionalise this work… These are all arguments for nurturing this emerging field, and pursuing the recommendations made in this report. In particular, I’d highlight the value of reducing the friction and transaction costs involved…
This space of cross-border innovation will only become more important in the next decade. The advantages of faster learning, and pooled action to reduce risks and amplify benefits should be self-evident… This is set to be at least part of the future for effective innovation in the public sector, and this very welcome report shows how that might happen.
See print report for full foreword
Professor of Collective Intelligence, Public Policy and Social Innovation at University College London.
The field of public sector innovation and related fields such as open government have long promoted the building of conduits for ground-up ideas and solutions, such as through democratic decision-making processes and collective intelligence. Likewise, experimentation is a key mode of innovation in governments and is gradually becoming a norm. Ideas and solutions derived from these efforts help government move beyond organisation-centric thinking and make it possible to test ideas in ways that promote learning and help keep risk levels manageable. The success of these efforts within countries and jurisdictions has led governments and their partners to apply similar approaches in cross-border and even global contexts.
This work has led to the identification of two leading governance approaches and associated case studies, as discussed below.
Surfacing ground-up insights and collective intelligence
Governments are working across borders to identify new ways to enable ground-up insights and solutions from stakeholders and the public. These efforts range from simple but effective dialogues to mass scale cross-border collective intelligence initiatives that contribute to addressing major challenges. These efforts are often preceded by mapping exercises to ensure all relevant stakeholders are known and involved.
The first report in this series focused on innovation bodies providing top-down or centre-out direction, and networks enabling horizontal linkages for collaboration. This second report highlights efforts that enable bottom-up flows of information across borders in order to bring forth ideas and perspectives.
Deep Space Food Challenge
An international collaboration between the Canadian Space Agency and NASA that incentivises innovators to address gaps in the field of food production technologies to meet the needs of space exploration, which can also address terrestrial needs, such as reducing food insecurity on Earth. In October, initial prizes totalling USD 450 000 were awarded for ideas leveraging new technological advances that could feed astronauts on future space missions.
Global Innovation Collaborative
A network and platform for collaboration through which city governments from around the world launch open innovation competitions and invite passionate innovators to deploy solutions in local testbeds. Its mission is to leverage challenge-based principles and collective intelligence to surface ideas and stimulate shared learning, with the goal of accelerating the economic recovery from the COVID-19 crisis and creating more resilient and sustainable cities.
Experimenting and testing across borders
The increasing complexity and interconnectedness of the issues affecting present-day societies has contributed to growing interest among governments and policy stakeholders in evidence-based policy making. This has in turn led policy makers in many governments to focus more strongly on experimental approaches. Small-scale tests can make innovation more tangible and less uncertain, as well as providing greater learning and feedback opportunities and lower costs of failure.
The work conducted by OPSI and the MBRCGI has identified three main layers related to innovative approaches in cross-border testing and experimentation that can help make sense of this emerging topic: 1) innovative spaces and mechanisms for testing and experimentation across borders, 2) real-world cross-border testing and experimentation, and 3) building a strategic layer for cross-border experimentation.
A cross-border collaboration for autonomous vehicle experimentation. It involves a collaborative, international network of partners from different sectors coming together to test 5G-enabled connected and automated vehicles across European borders and promote their large-scale deployment. The project includes two testing “corridors” between Portugal and Spain, and one between Greece and Turkey, as well as eight local urban testing sites in China, Finland, France, Germany, the Netherlands and South Korea.
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Surfacing Insights and Experimenting Across Borders