How do you use technology/policy to improve citizens’ lives? Tell us about your role or organization.

In the post Covid world, both Tech and Policy have a blended role to improve citizens’ lives. Last-mile delivery of public services, be it health or education, especially in a region like Asia which has the highest population as well as the highest digital divide, is even more significant.

Use of data to anticipate challenges and obstructions in public service delivery systems has become imperative. I lead the Government Innovation portfolio at the Regional Innovation Centre (RIC)- UNDP Asia Pacific.

My role is to engage with our country offices, policymakers, and other development partners across the region in building the Government Innovation portfolio which includes new models of governance stitching together policy experimentation (rapid prototyping beyond RCTs), participatory and anticipatory governance using data-driven policymaking principles, digital transformation, all of it with a view to support ‘Better Public Services’ mandate.

RIC has partnered with The Rockefeller Foundation on ‘Data-Driven Policymaking’ with a vision to foster and accelerate the development of a thriving data-ecosystem in select countries in Asia and the Pacific through a portfolio of policy actions that bring together the public and private sector, civil society, academia and other development actors to demonstrate the power of data innovation.

Under this partnership, UNDP and The Rockefeller Foundation, together with their development partners in Asia, have co-designed a ‘Data for Policy’ Platform to support policymakers in the region towards prototyping data-driven policymaking, leveraging from the accelerated digital transformation in the region and applying anticipatory and systems lens on complex development challenges.

Under this platform, we are working with policymakers in India and the Philippines on deep diving with data-driven policy experiments (applying systems thinking and anticipatory governance lens) on Future-Fit Resilient Food Systems. We are trying to build a learning-by-doing ‘experimental’ appetite within policymakers to help them making agile policies by learning, sharing and cross-fertilizing policy ideas from across the globe.

With these data-driven policy prototypes on Food Systems in India and The Philippines, and our existing asset of working on systems thinking approach on Circular Economy across the region, we plan to scale up our approach to other themes like Education/ Future of Work, Gender, Youth, Climate Change etc.

What was the most impactful project you worked on this year? 

It is difficult to use the word ‘impact’ when you are working on innovation. Policy Innovation can never be measured with KPIs and timelines. It is a process, an approach and a journey that helps break silos, makes systems resilient, stronger, and agile.

However, early results of the work we have done so far, with policymakers on systems thinking and data-driven policymaking are very promising. It is rare to have large foundations invest on systems change, experiments and cross-learning oriented projects that do not have large KPIs of ‘x’ million peoples’ lives being impacted; but UNDP and The Rockefeller Foundation have joined forces for testing this with policymakers on the first of its kind regional platform on data-for-policy. So, I would say, Data for Policy (under construction) is the most impactful project I worked on this year.

What is one unexpected learning from 2021? 

Covid-19 has made the impossible, possible. Be it converting the entire education system from physical to virtual or be it senior policymakers taking quick decisions for large scale experiments on social protection for citizens, everything seems quick and possible these days.

However, I must admit, it has been a gigantic task to get governments commit to non-siloed, open and data-driven culture of decision-making. Unexpectedly (pleasantly), we have found some champion policymakers who are even more excited and energized than us to break the silos and try new models of policymaking, new ways of playing with data and contributing to systems transformation.

What’s your favorite memory from the past year? 

There are many! But to name one- in one of the workshops in India wherein we were brainstorming on deep diving into policy challenges of the State (Telangana) on Food Systems and Digital Agriculture, we had invited multiple stakeholders including government, foundations, CSOs, academia etc.

Interestingly the most productive and critical inputs came from a tech-savvy farmer we had invited as an end-beneficiary to the whole experiment. The participatory approach we used, the inputs that came from him and the final design of the policy experiment has been a favorite memory! The memory will have wings to fly higher as we move from design to execution stage in 2022.

What’s a tool or technique you’re excited to explore in 2022?

A lot has been spoken, researched, and tested globally, on applying foresight/ futures lens to policymaking. At UNDP, we are excited to practically apply Anticipatory/ Futures lens to policymaking using data, prototype in a challenging region like Asia and bring together policymakers who are driving these policy experiments to share and advocate for the approach!

What are your priorities for 2022? 

My priority for 2022 shall remain the Data for Policy Platform. I will ensure I engage with the champion policymakers and other actors contributing to the data and policy ecosystem of the region. The idea is to foster a community of policymakers and experts learning, sharing and cross-fertilizing policy ideas on various policy challenges and themes and end up making better use of data, strengthening the data ecosystem in their respective countries and delivering better public services, agile policies and resilient systems.

Who are the mentors and heroes that inspire you? 

I have two heroes who inspire me, and I am also fortunate to have them as my mentors- Giulio Quaggiotto- who first identified my innovation DNA, guided me, and mentored me. His vast knowledge and ideas on Public Sector Innovation, Portfolio Sensemaking and Systems Transformation are phenomenal, and it feels like an ocean of learning when he is on ‘sharing’ mode.

The same is the case with my second mentor, my colleague- Alexandru (Alex) Oprunenco. He is yet another pro on Policy Innovation. He is a thinker and a doer. It is difficult to have both these qualities in one person. In my journey of NextGenGov and Data-for-Policy projects, I have learnt a lot about Government innovation from both my mentors.

What gets you up in the morning?

I love my work! It keeps me charged, motivated and moving! Everyday there is something new to learn, new people in the policy and data space to learn from, new policymakers to engage, new challenges to dissect and new models of governance to think and design! The idea of learning such amazing new things everyday gets me up in the morning.