As part of our NextGenGov journey in the Asia-Pacific region, Aafreen Siddiqui- our Regional Engagement Lead (Government Innovation) at the Regional Innovation Centre interviewed Mr. Jayesh Ranjan- a senior bureaucrat of the Indian Administrative Services, who is leading the Information and Technology Department of the Government of Telangana and is the prime mover behind many of the State’s innovation initiatives.
Telangana, one of the youngest states in India, has been the first to roll out an Innovation Policy and set up a number of innovation platforms like Telangana State Innovation Cell (TSIC), T-Hub, WeHub, RICH, TWorks and TASK. The state seems to be on a mission to prove that indeed leapfrogging one’s way to be an innovation-driven economy is possible.
UNDP Regional Innovation Team: Telangana is a new State. You must have had many other priorities to get started. What prompted you to embed innovation across the government almost from the onset?
Jayesh Ranjan: The historic Telangana Movement was a movement driven by people motivated to carve out their own state. Amidst severe political stress and criticism, the Telangana state was born on 2nd June, 2014. It was a new beginning and a new kind of struggle. The criticisms and struggle became our inspiration to unite the bureaucratic and political will towards doing something unique and constructive.
Within 5 days of the formation of our State, unlike any other state, we did not focus on organizing the bureaucracy, drawing up department profiles, budgets etc., we rather joined forces to call for India’s first of its kind State Visioning Exercise- “Envision Telangana” that brought together a wide range of experts from all sectors including industries, academia, start-ups, NGOs and our citizens to give us their valuable inputs on ‘HOW’ should we craft the policies and economy of Telangana. Out of the many inputs, two prominent suggestions emerged:
- Focus on making Telangana a tech-enabled innovative state.
- Focus on fostering the young talent and young entrepreneurs of the state.
We therefore decided to focus on our strengths and began walking our path towards an innovation-driven economy. We knew we were blessed to have a number of existing assets to build upon: a thriving hub like Hyderabad, but also some of India’s leading incubators and institutions like ISB, IIIT, NALSAR and over 200 start-ups. We also had a very dynamic political leadership- our IT Minister- KT Rama Rao, who gave us (bureaucrats) full support, flexibility and autonomy to paint Telangana’s innovation canvas. This is how the ‘Innovation Journey’ of Telangana began. We not only became India’s first state to roll out a State Innovation Policy but also ended up becoming one of the first states to nominate a Chief Innovation Officer (who is not a bureaucrat)! Since inception, we wanted to do things differently; today- we are not only home to Apple, Google, Amazon, Microsoft, OnePlus, IKEA etc., but also figure in the list of top 5 innovative states of India and top 3 states with maximum number of start-ups.
UNDP: Being first is never an easy task. Tell us more about the journey of developing a state innovation policy without having a precedent to refer to, and the challenge of moving from document drafting to implementation?
Jayesh Ranjan: Within one year of our State’s formation, we came out with a consultative model to develop our innovation policy. We were still trying to understand and learn about the different aspects of innovation; so we knew we didn’t have all the answers. Hence, everything we did, included rounds of consultations. For every problem statement, we kept going back to the drawing board and asking our target audience lots of questions, inputs and suggestions. Interestingly, when we focused on the problems faced by our startups, we instinctively began by asking them: “How can we help you?” Their answer took us aback: “The only way government can help us is by staying away!” We learned that we had to frame the question differently and focus on pain points. The major obstacles they identified were:
- Finding affordable, good quality work places
- Difficulty in accessing relevant knowledge or technical support, in spite of the proximity with so many national level institutes and labs in Hyderabad
- Perhaps more important of all, a struggle to secure the first customer
In order for us to build credibility and show we could walk the talk, we started taking on this issues one by one. To address the challenge of affordable work-place, we established India’s largest Government-owned start-up hub known as the T-Hub in the heart of the Hyderabad city. Since its incorporation in 2015, it has provided 1,100+ national and international startups access to better technology, talent, mentors, customers, corporations, investors and government agencies.
We also set up the Research and Innovation Circle of Hyderabad (RICH) as a way to create an effective interface between research institutes and labs and startups, which can now have access to mentoring and R&D support to our start-ups. RICH acts as a platform that connects research institutions, academia and industry along with venture capitalists, angel investors and incubators.
And a real game changer was when we, the Government of Telangana, decided to be the ‘first customer’ for our homegrown startups. This was no easy task: it involved, for example, taking a second look at our procurement processes that in many ways hindered us when working with startups. We realized that a major obstacle was that the two worlds (startups and government) don’t know much about each other’s inner works. We had to create a space to generate reciprocal understanding. This was ultimately the genesis of another first-of-its-kind in India: Telangana’s Government Mentor Program (GMP).
UNDP: How does the mentor program work?
Jayesh Ranjan: It is designed to break cultural barriers at both ends. By design and culture, start-ups generally do not fit or qualify for any large scale procurement/ tenders rolled out by the government. Government tends to perceive them as a risky proposition, given their newness, the perceived lack of institutional expertise, their unproven financial record and ability to deliver at scale. Startups on the other hand often struggle to understand the way government bureaucracy works and the inherent difficulty of balancing the introduction of new solutions whilst preserving safety and equality for all.
By offering policy-makers a chance to mentor start-ups for three months we create an ideal blend of experience with new ideas and energy. Entrepreneurs can get a more realistic picture of government as their potential change-making first customer.
The first cohort came up with interesting themes from Telangana Police, looking for solutions towards crime prevention, monitoring fake news, maintaining law and order control, traffic management etc. The program received over 200 applications from all over the country, of which 10 were selected by panels consisting of government officials and industry experts. Examples include Legitdoc- a blockchain startup which solves the problem of forgery of documents (marks cards, university certificates, insurance papers, permits, invoices, land records etc.); Lakeer, who tap into citizen champions in neighborhoods and Kaarmic Education Services- offering educational opportunities to young leaders from low income communities.
Bureaucrats and police officials mentored startups over a period of three months, having weekly calls to discuss goals/priorities and monthly meetups for addressing challenges.
GMP has not only managed to bridge the innovation gap between government and start-ups, it has also started bringing about behavioral change. Government mentors seem to have learnt a lot about cutting edge technologies and started perceiving startups as a legitimate choice as a partner and/or vendor. Start-ups on the other hand have started understanding the regulatory framework to match the sustainability and scalability criteria of the government.
In the enthusiastic words we heard from a government official: “Gone are the days when we picked the largest companies to offer the most effective service solutions for citizens. I totally enjoyed mentoring and walking this journey of solution-development together with a startup. I now have at my disposal the possibility of anticipating traffic patterns and optimizing the deployment of staff in the field. I estimate I can save up to 2,600 man-hours per day in a one of the busiest areas of Hyderabad. If the youth and citizens decide to team up with the government and vice-versa, in solving complex problems, we will start topping the Global Happiness Index charts soon!”
UNDP: Many governments these days state that they want to build a culture of innovation across the public sector, but that is easier said than done. What has been your approach?
Jayesh Ranjan: Everything that we were trying in Telangana wasn’t tested before in India. So everything for us here was experimental governance. We did not try to ‘build’ or ‘introduce’ innovation culture, we rather tried to ‘embed’ the culture within our systems. The first task was to ensure that our newly created innovation institutions like T-Hub, We-Hub, TASK, RICH, TSIC etc. are not led by bureaucrats appointed from the usual suspects but by a talented pool of officers hired from the open-market. If we really wanted to live our Innovation Policy in letter and spirit, we had to do away with our mindsets of bureaucratic control that could deter the pace of progress in a fast-working ecosystem of innovation. We ensured that there are boards of governance for all these institutions which guarantee a level of independence from government. We gave them the space and autonomy to grow, flourish and give back the best to our State’s economy.
Secondly, our idea of embedded innovation was not to hire consultants to advise our bureaucrats on how to transform services so that they become more citizen-centric. Rather, we started by training and fostering our in-house IT Cadre on digital transformation, creating a team of 24 passionate officers. These were embedded in all our 35 departments, and shadowed senior bureaucrats and their teams to get a better understanding of their challenges. It is thanks to this effort that many departments have come-up with some path-breaking citizens service delivery models. For instance, the Road Transport Authority’s (RTA) digitized services via the RTA App enabling citizens to ride their vehicles paper-free and license-free. It also uses blockchain technology to track chassis/car details and this has helped reduce car-theft cases in the state. Other examples include the Use of drones to help farmers target specific crop areas, blockchain for land registrations and records for smart-contracts, and the use of AI and chatbots by the Tourism Department to give easy access to prospective tourists. Interestingly, innovation has also touched the law and judiciary department with the concept of e-courts and e-tribunals being introduced.
So, yes, it was not an easy journey to change the culture and mindsets of all players in this new state, but we managed to do it and succeed within the very first five years of establishment.
Sincere thanks to Mr. Ranjan and his team: Phanindra Sama (Chief Innovation Officer- TSIC), Tarun Kumar Davuluri (Senior Innovation Fellow- TSIC), IT Cadre Officers- Ms. T. Shalini and Mr. Raghava Chary and Hudson Paul (co-founder of start-up RHPD) who helped getting microscopic understanding of all initiatives listed in this interview. If you know any such interesting examples of embedded innovation in the public sector, please do reach out to me on email@example.com We would love to learn, share and collaborate with such Governnment Innovation Champions under NextGenGov!