Credit: Shutterstock

Asia is transforming, focusing on establishing itself as a leading hub for innovation in science, technology, society, and research.

One of those ideas that everyone likes but few truly comprehend is innovation. It is one thing for a business to declare in its mission statement that it strives to innovate, as many do, but quite another for it to really carry out this goal. But if it’s difficult for corporations to innovate, think how difficult it must be for public-sector organisations.

However, this is not a challenge governments can afford to shrink from. Not least because, for all the attempts of higher education institutions across Asia, like Nanyang Technological University (NTU) and National University of Singapore (NUS), Private Educational Institutes (PEI) and in the establishment of world-class research and development hubs such as the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) and others to present themselves as free spirits, many of the technological developments with which we are now highly familiar have their origins in publicly-funded research. So it makes sense for governments to invest in this way to lay the foundations for future prosperity.

In the ever-evolving landscape of governance, public sector innovation has emerged as a global trend since the 1980s, with the Asia-Pacific region leading the charge. The two prime examples of this phenomenon are Korea and Singapore. Renowned as pioneers of innovative governance, these nations provide invaluable insights into reshaping public administration.

This underscores the catalytic potential of public sector innovation, spotlighting Korea and Singapore as exemplars of innovative governance. As global governance continues to evolve, these case studies offer profound insights into the multifaceted dimensions of innovation. Shaped by historical trajectories, cultural nuances, and the demands of their time, these cases provide a roadmap for cultivating effective governance practices that adapt to citizens’ evolving needs.

In the grand narrative of governance transformation, Korea and Singapore stand as beacons, reminding us that through innovation, governments can usher in a new era of effective, transparent, and citizen-centric administration.

Driving economic growth through innovation in Asia

Science, research, and innovation are catalysts for economic growth in Asia. Governments across the region have recognised the importance of investing in scientific research ecosystems to spur economic development.

China, India, Malaysia, Japan, and South Korea have made substantial investments in research and development, creating vibrant innovation hubs. These investments have attracted global talent and nurtured local expertise, leading to cutting-edge industries in sectors such as artificial intelligence, biotechnology, material science, biomedical sciences, agriculture, and renewable energy.

In addition, Asia’s commitment to international collaboration has accelerated scientific progress. Regional initiatives like the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) have fostered knowledge exchange among member countries. Sharing resources, data, and expertise has accelerated research and enabled countries to tackle common challenges such as climate change, public health crises and sustainable development.

The key finding is that the flow of national innovation is stopped by three missing ingredients that create three calls to action for public sector leaders to enable what is termed Innovation Diffusion and Adoption (IDA). These are:

  1. Find inspiration from deep need. Governments need better connect innovations to local demand, by essentially taking a “supply chain” approach and having a clear mission and the skills to deliver.
  2. Put inclusion at the heart of every innovation. This involves creating and supporting diverse teams, prizing collaboration over competition and providing support for innovators.
  3. Iterate for success. This requires involving end users earlier in the process in order to gain feedback, dropping expectations of perfection and reframing what successful IDA looks like.

The public sector has two roles. The first was driving innovation on behalf of a country as a whole. The second was realizing that the public sector accounted for a significant part of GDP and therefore had to apply the principles to itself — recognizing, of course, that there were certain constraints, such as the greater scrutiny attached to government activities, less appetite for risk and the complexity involved in managing a range of stakeholders.

Accepting that the idea of innovation had been bandied around for some time, and that there were signs of more action. For instance, there was now a branch of government — the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology — with the word in its title and there were attempts to build innovation ecosystems, for example, around Freeports and university science parks.

The public sector can actually be more innovative than people think; it is just reluctant to talk about it. This is partly a result of a national reticence not necessarily shared around the world but also partly caused by not wishing to invite too much public scrutiny for fear that it will be seen as a waste of money.

There is also a view that innovation is all about producing bright, shiny new things and services like those offered by the Big Tech companies when changes to how things are done or improvements to services can be just as, or more, important.

It is obviously vital that there is more critical thinking within departments (and across them) and there should also be a strong link with demand at the local level. But if governments are to play their part in solving some of the biggest questions facing nations — climate change, productivity, inequality, for example — there does need to be top-down direction and focus.

To reach the Innovate Tech Show editorial team on your feedback, story ideas and pitches, contact us here.