Obafemi Awolowo University Takes Lead in Open Innovation

Obafemi Awolowo University Takes Lead in Open Innovation

This is one of the interesting things I have seen in recent times; an academic institution, whose major source of innovation is research or at best, closed innovation, is taking a big leap to transit to an open innovation system. Our education system so far in Nigeria, has been largely characterized by a one-way transfer of knowledge and information, where students have to take-in what the lecturer is saying, and regurgitate back during examination. Yes, our system tests for memory and not intelligence.

Amazingly here, Obafemi Awolowo University, is in the process of face-lifting the main entrance to the campus, and has thought it so nice, to involve students in the design phase of the project. The school is not just sourcing for ideas, they are also ready to award monetary prizes to winning students. This is a big redesign of our public system of governance in Nigeria, and kudos to the Vice Chancellor, Prof. Eyitayo Ogunbodede, for championing this initiative. Traditionally, this design could have been outsourced, or done internally, with huge sum of budget. Yet, the design will be poorly done, and the funds allocated to the design will be siphoned.

For a university with brilliant professors and design professionals, deciding to go beyond their border of innovation, and make it open source, is a big leap to our public system.  In a world of widely distributed knowledge, an institution, organization or company, cannot afford to rely entirely on their own research. Open innovation is more or less like the antithesis of the traditional vertical integration approach, where R & D activities lead to internally developed products. It is a “distributed innovation process, based on the purposively managed knowledge flows across boundaries”. By integrating a much larger variety of ideas and knowledge into new product and service development, the performance of this process will improve, and the resulting products/services will have a better fit with the customers’ requirements.

The open innovation challenge

Many big corporations such as IBM, 3M, DuPont and Boeing have explored the benefits of external innovation opportunities, transferring major new initiatives from internal resources to those that focus on external networks and communities. Procter & Gamble’s (P&G) approach to R&D is one of the most popular examples of open innovation. To have a greater grasp of external ideas and actors, P&G moved its R&D strategy from concentrating on internal R&D toward “connect and develop”. By this, P&G has opened itself up to a wide range of external sources of innovative ideas. The “connect and develop” model is based on the notion that externalities may often be more valuable than internal ideas, or they can complement the internal ideas to generate great value.

As Obafemi Awolowo University, takes the lead in student-centred design, the Nigeria public sector, must equally transit to an open innovation system, a citizen-centred governance, to develop tailored solutions and policy framework. Citizens are not meant for the electioneering process alone. They must also be involved in co-creation and co-innovation process. This is not new. President Barack Obama did it, with the Open Government Initiative, in the United States. In Canada, The Institute for Citizen-Centred Service (ICCS), was established by the Public Sector Service Delivery Council (PSSDC), and has been playing an important role in enhancing citizen satisfaction with public sector service delivery. Also, in South Africa, The Centre for Public Service Innovation (CPSI), was established by the Minister for Public Service and Administration, with the aim of improving the quality of public service through the development of innovative, sustainable and responsive models.

Nigeria has been 20 years into democracy, and despite this, the government has been employing a dominant top-down approach to governance system. Treating citizens as customers is one of the key elements in transforming public services, and has been considered a core element of the (new) public management reforms globally. Government, institutions and public authorities, must transform from bureaucratic organizations into public service provider, to be managed with a strong emphasis on transparency, accountability, service orientation and perceivable output and outcome devoted to the welfare of the citizens.

Public values must be integrated into the decision-making process, to improve the quality of decisions, build trust in public institutions and create public access to information. The “Change begins with me Campaign” in Nigeria can’t be effective, until democratic power is given to the voices of the masses. Nigerians have the capacity of citizens to pass sound judgment on public policy matters, and provide high quality contributions to the policy processes. Without the right structure, to create an open innovation culture in Nigeria, we will continue to circumnavigate cycle of poor policy, poor implementation and poor standard of living.

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