Modelling Reverse Engineering in Public Sector in Georgia

Reverse engineering, as explained by my 12-year-old son, is tracing backwards the evolution of a product to find out how it works to use this knowledge for making something new. “It’s elementary”, he said, “but I don’t like using others’ ideas, I like doing everything myself, from the scratch.” This is where my 12-year-old and public sector organisations seem to overlap, unlike private sector.


“The first thing that Samsung did when the iPhone came out was to put together a team devoted to reverse engineer it. Why don’t we see much more of that in the public sector?” Geoff Mulgan, Nesta’s Chief Executive

Innovation Service Lab at the Georgian Government ventured to break the mold last December at the first regional meet up of public service innovations in Tbilisi to model reverse engineering solutions from Canada and Serbia for waste management and road safety to fit the local context.

To borrow from Giulio Quaggiotto, we experimented toopen up a space to … scan the work of other organizations, rip their innovations apart, and reassemble and repackage them into a new service by appropriating those components that seem more likely to succeed.”

By then, barely a year-old- Innovation Service Lab of the Public Service Development Agency (PSDA) of the Ministry of Justice of Georgia had already taken its first steps following UK-driven innovation practices, through initiating in-house innovative projects, rethinking the concept of scientific library, and joining the first national public service redesigning exercise with 112 Emergency Services. While still in making, the PSDA Service Lab marked its second birthday by opening its doors to other government agencies to position itself as an intra-governmental center for public service innovation in the country.


Who did we engage?

The Service Lab held rounds of consultations with the line ministries to identify the areas they were most struggling with. Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Protection (MoE) and Ministry of Regional Development and Infrastructure (MRDI) cited waste management and road safety where local solutions were scarce. The lab then turned to NGOs and academia and mapped the existing non-governmental actors operating in this fields nation-wide. For mentorship we partnered with Nesta, UK, MindLab, Denmark, Pulse Lab, Indonesia; as well as ‘emerging’ service labs for experience-sharing from the region and beyond (e.g. Armenia, Moldova, Macedonia, Arab States).


What specifically did we try to tackle?

(i) Reduction of number of deaths caused by car accidents — the number of deaths caused by road accidents annually is twice as much in Georgia as in developed countries; There are several government ministries working together to solve this issue.

(ii) With the introduction of Extended Producer Responsibilities in Georgia, MoE is looking into the ways of engaging citizens and private sector to raise the awareness on waste management, plastic waste in particular.


What was the process like?

I. Scanning for successful solutions

We scanned the existing solutions globally in the respective fields, like Speed Camera Lottery in Sweden, Susha Road Safety Campaign in Nairobi, Garbage Clinical Insurance in Indonesia, Pay for Subway by Recycling Bottle in China and found the experience of the Serbian Government on road safety and Plastic Bank, Canada on waste management most relevant to Georgia. Their representatives were invited to work face to face with the local audience comprised of line ministries, NGOs, academia, private sector, citizens at large, including youth and PWDs.

II. Ripping their innovations apart

We had 2 mixed group of about 100 people analyzing Serbian and Canadian best practices based on the methodology of Solution Mesh by Kal Joffress, Tandemic, comprising of 4 steps:

1. Understanding: developing a common understanding of local challenges

2. Breaking down: decomposing the solution into individual components and identify key design decisions

3. Explaining: identifying the problem or context each decision is designed to address

4. Relating: comparing to local context

III. Re-assembling and re-packaging

By the end of day 2 we had a map of potential interventions to choose from:

On road safety it ranged from (a) the creation of an intra-governmental working group for policy-level decision-making, (b) to safety promotion campaign to convince Georgian drivers drive safely, (c) coupled with more rigorous enforcement measures by the Ministry of Interior and (d) citizen-driven mapping of road congestion and illegal parking through mobile app.

(a)Mobile app for illegal dumpsite mapping was one of the options that the group of waste management came up with along with (b) the incentive scheme of “Eco cards” in exchange to plastic waste collected be used for reducing energy bills; paying tickets for public transport / cinema / theater etc; (c) establishing collecting points / units supported by community centers and municipalities; and (d) even exporting waste to Turkey as a temporary measure, as Georgia lacks an adequate facility for waste processing in the circumstances of non-existing waste separation practices requiring (e) rigorous awareness raising measures, including those driven by the Government.


The way forward:

As Jesper Christiansen later reflected, “this event productively illustrated the usefulness of thinking simultaneously about i) developing new prototypes that can demonstrate impact through a particular solution concept and …. ii) how this solution can be tested, further developed and adapted through a more continuous effort….[requiring] a longer-term commitment towards collaboration and collectively exploring the new opportunities in order to create real change in scale.”

While more to come on the interesting developments following this first reverse engineering experiment in Georgia, looking back we realize how ambitious a task we tried to tackle. Georgian Government Lab is still on the learning curve and reshaping its future. Perhaps the right way forward would be to reflect and reverse engineer the Lab itself into the structure able to push for longer term commitment of actors and sustained change?

How do we go about it?

What are the new skills/expertise to attract?

Should it keep the structure rigid or allow for the fluidity of processes?

Should it employ staff or create the network of innovation champions to deploy ad hoc?

Should it have defined set of tools or keep reinventing them for every given problem solving?

How does it capitalize on promising international partnerships?

Are you interested to contribute? Have you got experience to share? We are looking forward to hearing from you.