Accelerating Innovation in Bhutan

Posted November 13, 2019

Giulio Quaggiotto, Head of the Regional Innovation Centre (RIC) with UNDP Asia Pacific

“Innovation has a direction and the governments have an important role to play in shaping and driving it,” said Giulio Quaggiotto, the Head of the Regional Innovation Centre (RIC) at UNDP Asia Pacific, to a full house at a sensitization workshop on Innovation in Thimphu today.

Giulio Quaggiotto led the day-long workshop on Accelerating Innovation in Bhutan, a first of its kind in the country, for over 70 participants comprising senior government officials, including the Minister for Economic Affairs and Chairperson of the Royal Civil Service Commission (RCSC), representatives from the Parliament, CSOs, UN Agencies and other multilateral agencies, local innovators and other key stakeholders.

Giulio has previously worked with Nesta, an Innovation Foundation based in the UK that works with partners around the globe to bring bold ideas to life to change the world for good. He has also worked in the UAE’s Prime Minister’s Office as an adviser on innovation and helped create the country’s first Ministry of Possibilities.

He familiarized the participants with the trends in public sector innovation and how countries around the world are embracing innovation as a tool for development and creating conditions for innovation in the government.

“The traditional tools that governments have at their disposal to make sense of the world and navigate the complexities of the constantly shifting context around us are under strain and cracking under pressure. They are not designed for today’s fast changing world and its complex and unpredictable challenges,” he said.

Sharing the perspectives on innovation in the public sector in Bhutan, the Chairperson of RCSC, Aum Karma Hamu Dorjee said going forward in today’s VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous) world, if our country is to continue to go from strength to strength and fulfill the aspirations of His Majesty The King, there is substantial work to be done and many risks that must be addressed.

“We must embrace innovation and transformation to deliver more effective, timely and responsive services.”

Aum Karma Hamu Dorjee, Chairperson of Royal Civil Service Commission

She highlighted several initiatives the RCSC has taken to foster innovation in the Civil Service, including the introduction of Design Thinking (DT) to promote citizen centric mind-set to embrace creativity and change.

“During the tenure of the past Commission, efforts to appoint an innovation and creativity officer was initiated.  However, Civil Servants volunteering for this position was not forthcoming neither did RCSC have a clear framework on how to go about it.  We are currently working on how to revitalize this initiative and this workshop could provide us vital inputs,” the RCSC Chairperson added.

Organized by the UNDP in collaboration with the Gross National Happiness Commission (GNHC), the workshop is a part of UNDP’s initiative to find innovative ways of working in development and helping countries in coming up with radical approaches to address complex and unpredictable development challenges of today’s fast changing world.

“The world is transforming at a very high speed. The formidable disruptive forces of the 21st century are creating, in a radical way, new realities for our future. There is a need for us to drastically reframe our development pathway,” said Ms. Azusa Kubota, UNDP Resident Representative.

Azusa Kubota, UNDP Bhutan Resident Representative

To remain a relevant and effective partner, UNDP globally has launched 60 accelerators labs to help 78 countries explore challenges within local contexts to identify connections and patterns, map solutions and then experiment these solutions to see if it works or doesn’t.

Bhutan is not among the identified 60 accelerator labs, but UNDP Bhutan is exploring partnerships to help the Royal Government of Bhutan in addressing complex challenges through systems thinking and design, a new holistic approach that not only looks at mapping the system but also identifying leverage points for experimentation.

For instance, the Government has identified addressing youth unemployment as one of the top priorities in the 12th Five Year Plan. Youth unemployment is a complex and dynamic challenge. In partnership with the Government, UNDP has initiated the process of systems mapping of youth unemployment.

UNDP conducted a two-day workshop on Systems Mapping of Youth Unemployment from 18-19 October

This will help in understanding the complexity of youth unemployment, identify connections and gaps in the system and find leverage points to figure out a workable solution and experiment those solutions to test feasibility, iterate and adapt.

Today’s sensitization workshop on innovation was preceded by a two-day internal workshop to help UNDP Bhutan come with a roadmap to accelerate innovation in our work to help solve challenges better. 

Staff engaged in group activity

It allowed UNDP Bhutan to critically reflect on how we can organize ourselves to spot emerging and future trends and respond swiftly. 

“Challenges faced today have not been seen before, and are inter-connected and highly complex, and therefore, conventional ways of planning, designing interventions, and monitoring and evaluating will not allow us and the government to keep up with the rate of changes happening in the world,” UNDP Resident Representative Azusa Kubota said.