Microsoft Policy Innovation Centre: Using Technology And Innovation To Deal With Emerging Policy Challenges In Africa
We are currently living in the age of the Fourth Industrial Revolution and the rate at which technological advancements are being made means that the most important question to be asked is “How fast can we adapt?” Right in the middle of this disruption are governments. If the previous three revolutions are anything to go by, a back and forth between rigidity and adaptability is bound to be seen, and this only serves to delay an imminent future. The paranoia over machines replacing human capital has already swept the global sphere and now more than ever, governments have to play a balancing role to ensure that they create the right incentives for innovation and adoption while also being proactive enough to lay foundations for dealing with challenges that may arise.
As it is, data is already being referred to as the new oil. The exchange of information across the globe has transformed the way we think about business and the flow of goods and services. Africa, being the continent with the youngest population is well placed to take advantage of this shift, if only the right infrastructure and the right skillsets are unrolled all over the continent. This, however, is not a process that can be done in isolation, or in one instant. It will take cooperation with other sectors, particularly the private sector which had already leapt on this bandwagon and has amassed a necessary wealth of capital.
This year Microsoft, in collaboration with Strathmore Law School, launched the first Policy Innovation Centre in the country at the Strathmore School Thomas Moore building. The centre, a first in Africa, is a response to the advancement in technology within the continent. In answering the challenges raised under the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals, the centre whose focus is digital transformation is intended to be a space for driving problem-solving conversations, collaborations and discussions on policy surrounding the digital age.
The Microsoft Policy Innovation Centre will be a multi-purpose project. It will be used as a moot court for students – it is an e-justice modern day court and it is equipped with audiovisual capabilities so that students can conduct moot courts with judges, magistrates and different jurisdictions through available software. It will also be used as a space for students, entrepreneurs, the public and private sector to discuss policy issues and come up with recommendations for policy documents. The centre will host talks on various topics around the justice systems in the region, and look at ways to transform them into the e-justice system. The idea is to create easier access to the justice system, at a lower cost and with quicker delivery. The policy centre will also work on policy issues in other areas like healthcare, education, agriculture, technology, etc.
The partnership has been expanded to include global development advisory company, Dalberg. At the launch, Robin Miller, a partner speaking for Dalberg explained that the advisory firm’s role in the fulfilment of their objective of building a sustainable and inclusive world where everyone can reach their potential will be to, “Leverage the policy innovation centre.” She explained that by 2020 Africa will have the largest working population in the world. It has, therefore, become increasingly important to support the digitization movement since digitization creates infrastructure which guarantees that people will have access to energy, water, money and other resources.
Chris Akiwumi, the Director for Government and Regulatory Affairs at Microsoft made the point that although research and other necessary data are easily available, conversations are held in isolation. It is a fact that there are numerous solutions to problems facing Africa already in existence, for example in health. However, the obstacle has been that there’s either too little or too much policy regulation standing in the way of the application of these solutions to our broader contexts.
The project being housed at an academic institution is even more strategic since PIC is intended to bridge the gap between, and convene talents in academia, industry and policy-making experts. In the words of the Dean, “The law is often ten steps behind advancement in technology, and when it does catch up it sets the industry back by seeking to over-regulate instead of encouraging growth.”
The PIC will be the venue of a series of conversations dubbed the Digital Transformation Series. This series will address the question of what challenges are considered most pressing in this day and age, and who has the capacity and the capability to solve them. With this foundation in mind, it is almost given that the government will come up with most of the answers as it plays a key role in ensuring mechanisms for sustainable change.
In order to make this prospect more attractive, perhaps we should explore what the government stands to gain from making this effort towards digitization. As it is, Kenya is facing a huge management crisis. If we were a business, we’d have filed for bankruptcy more than a few years ago. Our systems; in education, security, healthcare, wage bill management, revenue collection, finance never seem to work just right and often times we’re one mistake away from a public scandal. This isn’t just because of terrible efficiency but also rapid population growth making service delivery even more complicated than before.
Microsoft however, have a solution for this; the cloud. By definition, cloud computing is an information technology paradigm that enables ubiquitous access to shared pools of configurable system resources and higher-level services that can be rapidly provisioned with minimal management effort, often over the Internet. This basically means that at an efficiency cost, great speeds, wide range of access, accurate efficiency and limited maintenance, we can streamline all data-related services for the government simply by housing our systems on the cloud.
From improved government-citizen interaction for services such as licensing and payment of fees to government collection of data for planning and budgeting, this process of digitization promises to revolutionize how we think of service delivery.
If only the government jumps in on this wave, by engaging with consultants such as will appear at the Policy Innovation Centre, then we can ensure that the important challenges are forethought and solved, such as funding a human resource training that is able to handle the future so as to mitigate the possible risks of a shrinking human labour force and instead unlock newer capacities and a new sector in the economy.
Kenya has much to gain from this leap in digitization, but only if we leap early enough in the game. In the words of World Economic Forum founder Klaus Schwab,” the Fourth Industrial Revolution has the potential to raise global income levels and improve the quality of life for populations around the world. It is not to be missed.”
The Microsoft Policy Innovation Centre is aimed at providing an immersive experience to students, participants and visitors and has availed software, solutions and training to make the project a success. The centre is equipped with Office 365, and this will enable users to be more productive and enhance their day to day experience. Microsoft and Strathmore will also work together on programmes that address ICT- related themes that include legal and compliance, cloud, mobile and cybersecurity across modern government, efficient judiciary, national security and transformative education. Find out more about the centre here.