Ahead of the 25th European Social Services Conference (ESSC), ESN took the chance to discuss jugaad innovation with Jaideep Prabhu – co-author of the concept, leading academic and a keynote speaker at the conference. Here, Jaideep explains how jugaad innovation can be used in the public sector to better meet the needs of users.

Q: First off, can you explain what the ‘jugaad innovation’ concept is?

A: Jugaad innovation can be defined as “the art of overcoming harsh constraints by improvising an effective solution using limited resources”. It can also be thought of as the art of doing things faster, better and cheaper. In the West, it is increasingly referred to as “frugal innovation”: the ratio between the value that is generated by an innovation for customers, shareholder or society, and the resources that are needed by that innovation, whether they be financial or physical resources or time. The objective of frugal innovation is to maximise value while reducing the use of resources.

Q: Simplicity and frugality are the core components of jugaad innovation, how do practisers of the concept implement these values?

A: The key to achieving simplicity and frugality is to start with the users of the solution. Jugaad innovators spend a great deal of time at the outset understanding users, the problem they face and the context in which they face it. Only when they have understood the problem and context thoroughly do jugaad innovators begin to think of a solution and ways to combine existing resources to develop and deliver it.

Q:  Why would jugaad innovation be particularly relevant for Europe? What is it that holds back Western organisations from adopting jugaad innovation?

A: Consumers and governments in the West have become increasingly value conscious. Particularly since the financial crisis there have been downward pressures on household and government budgets and spending. As a result, Europeans are beginning to realise again the importance of doing more with less.

So what holds them back from doing more with less? In a sense, prosperity has made people complacent. Governments have become used to big budgets, elaborate bureaucracy and complex processes that have put distance between them and their citizens. Likewise, large companies have pushed technology for the sake of technology and committed themselves to top down, R&D driven approaches to innovation that have added cost and time to the process while distancing the firm from its customers.

But the tide might well be changing: a new generation of frugal and environmentally aware consumers is rising in the West. Further, more and more people in the West are increasingly empowered to do more with less. A whole new set of tools and technologies such as cheap computers and sensors, 3D printers, the internet, crowdfunding, and social media now make it possible for small teams with limited resources to innovate in ways that only large companies or the government could a decade or so ago. Europe might well be experiencing a frugal innovation renaissance that is likely to gather momentum in the years ahead.

Q: How can jugaad innovation be applied to the public sector and can you give us some examples?

A: In the emerging world, most jugaad innovations typically arise in the social sectors of education, health, energy and financial services. In India, for instance, in the context of healthcare, Dr Devi Shetty has applied jugaad principles to reduce the cost of heart surgery to US$1,200 while maintaining global quality standards. He wants to get the price down to US$800. In Bangladesh, BRAC, the world’s largest NGO has, over a 40 year period, developed a formidable asset-light infrastructure to deliver primary health, education, and microfinance to millions throughout the country, using principles of frugal innovation at scale. A key aspect of their model is to select and train local people to deliver solutions to people in their community, thereby reducing cost and improving efficacy at the same time.

In the area of subsidies, benefits and financial inclusion, an outstanding example of frugal innovation at scale is India’s Unique ID project. At the cost of a little below Rs. 70 per person (£1) the country has now provided a unique identity based on biometric data to over 1.13 billion Indians. This ID is now linked to bank accounts and is being used to reduce fraud in the system by delivering subsidies and benefits directly to people, in a more efficient and transparent way, saving the state billions while improving the lives of ordinary citizens.

Q: What strategies can public social services follow to apply components of jugaad innovation?

A: There are several strategies that public social services can follow. First, to put citizens first and work backwards from understanding citizens’ problems in their context. Solutions and public services should only be designed after this groundwork has been done; and these designs should endeavour to use available resources rather than reinventing the wheel or creating expensive new solutions from scratch. Second, to identify key stakeholders that will be affected by or involved in any solution that will be developed and deployed. It is important to understand who stands to benefit or not by change and to learn to engage and take all major groups along in the process. Third, to try out experiments in pilots that are carefully and quickly evaluated for effectiveness and efficacy. Doing so will help identify unintended consequences and reduce the costs of failure and risk. Finally, to be able to quickly scale selected experiments that have been proven to work in pilot form. Ultimately, innovations in the public sphere cannot remain as pilots: they must be expanded to benefit as many citizens as possible.