innovations in public systems: who will bell the cat?
May be not many people noticed two of the important recommendations of the 13th Finance commission ( FC). One was to create an institutional framework for systematic scouting, documentation and replication of innovations in public systems which make the impact on the lives of common people. A Centre for Innovations in Public Systems has been set up at ASCI, Hyderabad and was launched today by cabinet secretary. The analysis of innovations collected by 13FC from all the states were analysed by National Innovation Foundation to make two recommendations to mainstream the search and scaling up the innovations for improving the public systems. Second recommendation was to create a District Innovation Fund of Rs one crore in each district. Both these will hopefully make a small difference to the innovation environment in the country. Dr Vijay Kelkar, Chairman of the 13FC was incidentally the Finance Secretary when NIF was set up ten years ago drawing upon the experience of Honey Bee network and SRISTI and GIAN. HBN experience has triggered another institutional innovation now.
But the central question is not that there are not enough innovations in public systems impacting the life of the people. The real problem is that we do not build upon the innovations that are indeed tried by various public functionaries to reach the unreached and serve the unserved. Let me illustrate. A block level official noticed that children of fishing communities often accompanied their parents in the off shore fishing expeditions. They were thus deprived of educational opportunities. He introduced a ‘learning’ boat to accompany the ‘living’ boat. Children moved to the learning boat in the day time having a teacher and joined their parents in the night in the living boat. This example from Coastal Andhra Pradesh could easily be replicated in different states. A District Collector, Samir Sharma realized that generic drugs costed much less than the branded drugs and thus if one procured only generic drugs, one could use the available funds to serve many more people in the district. There are similar many more experiments that have been done in various parts of the country. In Karnataka as well as Gujarat, lacs of children were given swarna prashann, an ayurvedic drug for boosting their immunity on a particular day. if vaccinations can be done in a countrywide manner, why could not ayurvedic booster doses not be given to our children in schools as a measure of preventive health.
The freedom to experiment, innovate and serve the common people is needed at all levels but is that available at a scale that is needed. Dont we often see the attitude of public servants hardening with time rather than becoming flexible? do they appreciate initiatives by lower level functionaries enough? On the civil service day when i asked this question, many secretaries at central government level did not agree with this observation. I asked them me to show a file in which various experiments and innovation tried by people had been compiled? Was there any database of such initiatives available at central or state level? who will bell the cat of inertia and indifference towards initiatives and innovations needed urgently to match the rising aspirations of common people particularly in the economically backward regions?
Anil K Gupta