A small island nation nestled within the Indian Ocean, Sri Lanka’s size belies its great socio-economic potential. The economy has seen strong annual growth over the past 15 years, often leading amongst other countries in the region in terms of GDP growth rates. Provision of free health care and education has also helped boost the quality of life of its 20.48 million citizens. Despite the statistically impressive growth, issues of poverty and income inequality remain, as well as struggles to reconcile the growing gap between Colombo and the rest of the country.
The challenges faced by Sri Lanka are:
- Lack of testing out development solutions, resulting in failed efforts causing overall negative repercussions, including negative media backlash
- Development solutions are not agile or future proof
- Lack of citizen engagement in developing solutions to the country’s priority needs
Towards a Solution
Innovation can be defined as the ability to respond and adapt to change. In the context of Sri Lanka, this definition is pertinent as addressing some of the most pressing national issues, especially those in social development, is a top priority. To fulfill this mission, UNDP Sri Lanka has created an innovation lab called ‘Citra’ to explore policy design and stakeholder engagement for national development. The creation of the Lab is expected to provide a space for experimentation, Collaboration and innovation within and across various sectors in Sri Lanka.
Social innovation lab aims to address the ever-changing social, political and environmental challenges through a systematic and sustainable approach. A systematic approach addresses the root of the problem rather just the symptoms of the problem and the sustainable approach means the solution is designed so that it continues providing positive impact rather than a onetime fix.
The social innovation lab is a safe setting that finds a creative solution to the developmental issues. It provides a conducive environment to look at problems from different perspectives taking varying approaches to overcome obstacles and forming sustainable solutions by engaging stakeholders which might have been overlooked in the conventional processes. It is a rapid prototyping facility which provides tested, citizen-centric and tailored solutions.
The lab is a fully equipped state-of-the-art facility with a team of investors with the ability to mobilize wherever required. A typical lab cycle happens over a period of 28 days where once the lab receives an issue or a problem the investors scan the horizon and develop a complete user journey mapping through citizen engagement. The lab then consults the international and local experts related to the issue from its resource pool. Next, a prototype of the solution is developed bringing in different perspectives ranging from behavioral psychology, sociology, big data analysis, and digital design. The prototype is then tested in a small sample group. The team then come back to the drawing board assess and incorporate the feedback received and repeat this process twice more with different sample groups to shape a better solution which will be presented to the relevant implementation body. The solutions proposed through this process are aligned with national priorities and the latest trends in public opinion. As a result, the government is able to avoid any costs on negative publicity caused by unsuccessful policies. For more in-depth issues, the lab runs the cycles for four to six months with extensive online and offline consultations. The preparedness and response to natural disaster, effective solid waste management, and improved road traffic management are only a few examples of significant issues that the lab found a solution to. The lab is the first of its kind in the region and so it draws from experiences of similar labs around the world. The lab also brings together many initiatives Sri Lanka aimed at strengthening the foresight and innovation ecosystem of the country.
Sustainable development of a country refers to economic growth, development of environmental quality, and improvement of people's welfare. Social innovation lab ‘Citra’ addresses all these issues.