Modelling gaps for designing and delivering inclusive innovations


The inclusivity of any innovation depends on the degree to which the solution is accessible, affordable, available and adaptable to disadvantaged communities. The disadvantages can arise on account of spatial, sectoral, social, skill, seasonal or temporal and structural (on account of ill designed governance system) exclusion of the people. Innovations are defined as new ways of addressing an unmet need through modification in one of the four dimensions of a product or service involving : material, method, applications/uses or delivery. At least one of the four should be new: a solution may have new material but used by an old method, for old purpose and even old or already existing delivery system and likewise fr other parameters. It is possible that one can have novelty in more than one parameters.

These solutions can emerge from grassroots, for grassroots application by outsiders, with grassroots communities through collaborative design and delivery or at grassroots that is just located at community level without involving them in the innovation design process.

The theory of social transformation requires modelling technological, institutional, and socio-cultural dimensions of resource use, community response and developmental outcomes. There are many assumptions which guide developmental change but one of the crucial sub-set of change is the widening of decision-making options and extending the time frame of decision making. Longer the time frame, wider the options, a society is supposed to have embarked upon a sustainable path.

How do we model these variables and the contextual dimensions such that motivation for designing and delivery of innovation is empathetic, reciprocal, responsible and respectful of community creativity, aspirations and even contradictions.

Returning from the northern tip of India, near the line of control, Gurej valley, Jammu and Kashmir after walking for a week through the mountains with sub-zero temperature in the night, the contradictions in development process are quite evident. One room of a wooden house needs about 50-70 kg of wood daily to keep it warm. With about three months of complete cut off due to 20 feet or more of snow fall, the regions needs a lot of wood. The combustion efficiency of bukhari- the warming device is quite low. A grassroots innovator Tawseef from J&K scouted by the Honey Bee Network volunteers and supported by National Innovation Foundation has achieved a breakthrough design that can warm the house for eight hours with just 3 to 4 kg of wood. Women who harvest and bring the heavy load of wood in their ill-designed baskets from high slopes might get a little relief if the new Bukhari is diffused. How do we value conservation of forest, soil, reduction in landslide and glacial flow, to price the new Bukhari appropriately though ecological-economic modelling? Policy makers may dislike the term subsidy but will they ignore the cost of environmental loss, high drudgery, enormous back pain, gender bias?

It is important for statisticians to properly model situations like these to ensure that short-term calculations don’t make a transition to sustainable future difficult if not impossible.

I will be talking about these ideas as a part of PC Mahalanobis student colloquium lecture at Indian Statistical Institute, Bengaluru next week. Critical comments and ideas are most welcome.


Visiting Faculty, IIM Ahmedabad & IIT Bombay and an independent thinker, activist for the cause of creative communities and individuals at grassroots, tech institutions and any other walk of life committed to make this world a more creative, compassionate and collaborative place