Reimagining social innovation though platform thinking

In the past decade, digital platforms like Uber, Zomato, and Amazon have radically transformed the way we commute, eat, shop and navigate our individual and community lives. But more importantly, what they have enabled is an approach to solving problems using ‘platform thinking’. 

Platform thinking refers to how consumers, firms, competitors and others interact and create value. The fundamental principle that differentiates it from a conventional model of value creation is that consumers are not simply recipients but active participants in the value creation process. Platform thinking has marked a decisive shift in shaping everyday business functions.

This approach to creating value through an active participation from consumers need not be restricted to the private sector. Most large-scale development challenges are complex, with intersecting issues and multiple stakeholders, subsequently  defying scalable solutions. In India, there is perhaps no better instance of this than the  learning outcomes of children in government primary schools. According to ASER 2018, only 27% of children in Std III can read Std II text.

Addressing development challenges

One of the primary reasons for this is inadequate usage of suitable child-centric teaching practices in the classroom setting. Teachers have limited time or incentives to experiment with their teaching techniques and develop customized resources. To address these challenges, a host of  capacity building initiatives in the education sector have been implemented by  NGOs like Pratham and Jodo Gyan. However, these solutions have encountered  context-specific barriers in the form of  language, region, and cost, leading to limited scalability.

Which begs the question -- can a platform thinking approach help address a complex, systemic challenge such as this?

Let’s say there is a platform that enables teachers, research staff in teacher training institutes (DIET), community-based organisations, and pedagogy experts involved in TLM design to come together and co-develop training content, in-class resources, and assessment aids. This in turn helps them improve their skills and build capacities in newer areas. This is precisely what the National Teacher Platform, DIKSHA (Digital Infrastructure for Knowledge Sharing) platform  does. DIKSHA provides multiple open learning platforms to develop diverse content solutions in various formats such as documents, presentations, videos, and interactive lessons. 

This approach enhances teachers’ access to context-relevant and accessible resources by leveraging collaboration and co-creation through technology. For example, teachers benefit from the sharing of best practices through  innovative pedagogical practices. This has further empowered teachers, parents and school leadership in creating and using innovative tech-based solutions in classrooms, homes and communities.

Project ECHO, which works towards enhancing patients’ access to healthcare irrespective of their physical location, is another example. Participating medical professionals become part of Project ECHO’s capacity building platform, sharing knowledge and expertise through case-based learning.

Innovating with platform thinking

So, what’s the merit in applying platform thinking to tackling development and governance issues? And why is this approach gaining traction now? 

The platform approach to social innovation is based on three fundamental principles. 

  • Most social organizations such as schools, health units, and farmer collectives have limited access to resources like expertise, data and technology, which affects the quality of its service delivery to the community. These  critical resources can be made more accessible by leveraging open digital platforms. For example, Digital Green, a social organisation working with small farmers, provides location and time-specific advice to them to boost agricultural productivity and nutrition security using FarmStack.
  • There are limited avenues for interactions with others in the decision-making ecosystem such as government bodies, philanthropic organizations, and corporate firms. This results in duplication of efforts or blind imitation of best practices from elsewhere. Open technology-enabled ecosystems can facilitate inclusive and context-based innovations. For example, Shiksha Lokam, a social organisation working towards addressing education leadership challenges, offers a marketplace for ideas, challenges and solutions to support learning and improvement using open source infrastructure SolvED.
  • Development approaches often fall victim to a linear track of finding solutions -- identify problems, develop solutions, run pilots, measure impact, and replicate solutions. This tends to constrain problem-solving at scale. Open technology-enabled ecosystems can assist in solving specific problems in a dynamic manner as the local context changes.

Thus, the platform thinking approach presents a significant opportunity to reimagine social innovation. By distributing the ability to solve large-scale problems, it addresses the limitations that accompany traditional approaches of finding scalable solutions. iGOT Karmayogi, the backbone of Mission Karmayogi, is also a step in this direction. The competency-driven solutioning platform aims to enhance the execution capacity of the India state by catering to the diverse learning needs of 20 million government officials.

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