Our Perspectives

Innovation, state of the art of development


Latin America and the Caribbean are starting to emphasize the importance of innovation as the engine for confronting development challenges. Photo: UNDP El Salvador

In this blog series, UNDP experts and practitioners share their experiences and views on innovation in development practice.

Creativity fosters new concepts and ideas, inspiring fresh associations between the two, and producing original solutions to problems.

Creative inspiration is a characteristic commonly found among artists, and to some extent it is hard to explain. Living as we do in the age of Google and Wikipedia, which provide immediate gratification to whatever question we may have, the search for solutions that are inherently creative and innovative calls for a particular kind effort. Some solutions do exist, however, that can help us harness our imagination and creativity in our work as development stakeholders.

So, what do we have to do in order to be innovative?

We must continue to be receptive to the world that surrounds us, collect information and draw lessons, and seek new ways to listen to ideas and needs expressed by the ultimate beneficiaries of development work.  We must take risks, question established paradigms of thought, and break with the urgent routines that end up taking priority over other more important activities. These are ways to make the environment ripe for developing creative processes that foster innovation. These are actions that we should be committed to as development organizations.

As UNDP Administrator Helen Clark has pointed out, “innovative approaches to planning are now complementing traditional forms of national planning with strategic foresight.” This is the challenge: innovative planning that leads to better development results.

Citizens in Latin America and the Caribbean are starting to emphasize the importance of innovation as the engine for confronting the region´s significant development challenges. On-line platforms that connect young people with job opportunities or that facilitate the participation of migrants in consultative exercises that take place in their countries of origin, and the use of social networks to promote the awareness of problems associated with violence against women and minors, illustrate the kinds of initiatives that are part of our programmatic activities.

In El Salvador, for example, by putting new technologies at the service of citizens, we aim to strengthen citizen participation, and promote a more responsive government, one that is accountable to its citizens to deliver better services. In collaboration with the Secretariat of Citizen Participation, Transparency and Anticorruption of the Presidency of the Republic, we at UNDP supported the development of three applications to promote transparency, access to information, and accountability. These three applications were prototyped at the Open Government Hackathon held on June 2014.

  • Infoútil 2.0: Improves mobile access to the InfoÚtil Portal of the Government of El Salvador, through which users, based on an open government principle, can consult available databases, ask for information of interest, and voice their concerns to the appropriate authorities.
  • GobScore: Provides online feedback mechanisms in response to services provided by   government institutions.
  • Camino a la U (Road to University):  Consolidates and openly shares academic information about careers, study options and access to scholarships of Salvadoran universities.

The applications were developed by youth programmers who participated in the hackathon, and launched in December 2014.

 Just as many countries are accepting that poverty is a phenomenon that transcends income and calls for multi-dimensional analysis, there is an ever-growing realization that innovation can play a part in reducing costs, increasing income, and ensuring that countries’ productivity continues to grow. Innovation can help ensure that human development is more inclusive for all women and men, more complex in that it encompasses all dimensions, and more sustainable both now and in the future.

Development stakeholders should invest in creativity (through relevant and appropriate educational opportunities), the generation of know-how (producing useful information that can be codified), innovation (as an applied result that is useful and that stems from creative processes) and the sharing of innovative expertise.

Increasingly, these resources are designed as instruments to combat poverty while creating resilient communities and societies. Everything points to the fact that in the future this approach will be the best way to maximize human development to the fullest.

Inclusive growth blog series Governance and peacebuilding El Salvador Innovation Latin America & the Caribbean Stefano Pettinato

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