The Governance Innovation team at MIT GOV/LAB is embedding two Designer-Researchers, Federico Vaz and André Arruda, in government offices in Nigeria and Sierra Leone to explore pathways to governance innovation, while co-designing solutions to public service challenges. 

Federico Vaz, PhD (Uruguay), Design Innovation, will be working with the Presidential Enabling Business Environment Council (PEBEC) in Nigeria and a client ministry. André Arruda (Brazil), former Design Manager at Echos Desirable Futures Lab, will be working with the Freetown City Council’s (FCC) Urban Planning Delivery Unit, in Sierra Leone. 

Federico, has been working as a postdoctoral researcher, designing policy toolkits for social innovators, while at Loughborough University. “What excites me the most about governance innovation is that governance is a product of society. We often take the government for granted and forget that it can be re-designed as well,” Vaz said while talking about his interest in governance innovation. “Several principles of product design can be applied to governance. Up until recently, we never thought about policy makers and administrators as designers, whereas they actually design our lives,” he added.

Image 1: Federico Vaz facilitating an interactive session called “Who Designs for Policy?” during the Design Research Society 2022 Conference in Bilbao. Credits: Diana Pamela Villa Alvarez.

Sierra Leone is a different context. While Vaz will be embedded at the national level, Arruda will be working with the mayor’s team, specifically in the urban planning unit. Arruda will be bringing fresh perspectives from his work collaborating with local governments in Bogota and Medellin in Colombia. “When I think about innovation in governance, I think about governments that are open to bringing new ideas, to solve existing problems. Governments generally have one specific problem that they are looking to solve but I believe design can help us solve problems at different levels,” André stated.

Image 2: André Arruda leading a workshop on future challenges for the Brazilian government, during the 2022 Innovation Week. Credits: Raquel Martins. 

The MIT GOV/LAB will work with the Designer-Researchers, and partner organizations to co-identify challenges and solutions, document the processes, and together refine the Lean Governance Innovation Design (LGID) approach. LGID integrates elements of design, actor-network theory, behavioral science, negotiation, and other disciplines. It aims to de-risk, declutter, and demystify the process of innovation in the public sector to transform it into a low-cost, fast, easy to run process that creates a space for the collective imagination of people to imagine better governance. It emphasizes designing for more than users by bringing in key stakeholders like communities, service providers, bureaucrats to the design table from the very beginning, instead of as research subjects or later at the ideation stage. 

“Most governments are understandably short of time, funds and support, so they tend to skip the design part of public services, immediately looking for solutions. But I think there’s an enormous opportunity to build trust by designing with people,” said Carlos Centeno, Associate Director of Innovation at the MIT GOV/LAB, adding, “Good governments design for people. Great governments design with people.”

Image 3: Carlos Centeno meeting with members of the Freetown City Council, Sierra Leone. Credits: Freetown City Council (FCC), Sierra Leone.

“Good governments design for people. Great governments design with people,”
Carlos Centeno, Associate Director of Innovation, MIT GOV/LAB. 

Using Lean Governance Innovation Design, the Designer-Researchers will work with the MIT GOV/LAB, PEBEC, FCC and other key stakeholders to understand and co-identify challenges to public services. Thereafter, they will develop a plan for a pilot solution to a challenge. The Designer-Researchers will also develop case studies on the process to add to the slim literature on governance innovation in the Global South. 

In Sierra Leone, Carlos also met with officials from Sierra Leone’s Directorate of Science, Technology and Innovation (DSTI), including David Sengeh, SM ’12, PhD ’16, Sierra Leone’s Minister of Basic and Senior Secondary Education and Chief Innovation Officer, as well as the head of DSTI. “What is truly fascinating about Minister Sengeh is not his vast tech and innovation knowledge and his experience coming up with groundbreaking solutions; it’s his passion for problems,” Carlos said. Towards the end of 2022, DSTI and the MIT GOV/LAB, in partnership with the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change (TBI), will be documenting the challenges and constraints of designing and sustaining an innovative solution to understand how other African governments could think about creating their own versions of DSTI. 

During his visit, Carlos also reviewed ongoing work in Nigeria and Sierra Leone. In Nigeria, he worked with the Ministry of Health teams to tighten their pitches on a quality of care solution and a public health security solution as part of the ‘Governance Innovation Accelerator’ that the GOV/LAB organized in partnership with Gatefield, CCHub, and the Ministry of Health for Ekiti state. The accelerator is one of the latest instances where the GOV/LAB has tested an iteration of LGID. In Sierra Leone, Carlos reviewed the ongoing research of the Governance Challenge that the MIT GOV/LAB, organized with Sierra Leone’s DSTI. The teams representing the National Revenue Authority, and the Office of the Administrator and Registrar General, participated in a bootcamp, which enabled civil servants to engage with each other meaningfully though interactive discussions, and present prototypes to governance challenges of their choice.

Image 4: Quality of Care team presenting at the Governance Innovation Accelerator Pitch Event in Ekiti State, Nigeria. Credits: Ekiti State Ministry of Health and Human Services, Nigeria.

“There is so much to learn from what they’re doing in Sierra Leone and Nigeria and we need to document it,”  Carlos stated while outlining the next steps for the innovation team. “Talking to Minister Sengeh, Dr. Jumoke, Mayor Yvonne, it became evident that we need to demystify governance. So we are recording a new podcast with champions of governance innovation that we think will inspire people. I think our listeners will find it candid and insightful.” 

The Power to the Who podcast will start releasing episodes at the end of this year. Learn more about our governance innovation work here. Additional posts about our Designer-Researchers and LGID curriculum will be forthcoming. 

Header image: Governance Innovation Accelerator Pitch Event in Ekiti State, Nigeria. Credits: Ekiti State Ministry of Health and Human Services, Nigeria.