Sreevas Sahasranamam, a Chancellor’s Fellow at the Hunter Centre for Entrepreneurship, Strathclyde Business School, recently co-authored a paper titled ‘Innovation Ecosystems: What makes them responsive during emergencies’ on innovation ecosystems that evolved during the 2018 Kerala floods and Covid-19 emergencies. The paper has been reviewed in the British Journal of Management.Sahasranamam shared his insights in an interaction with BusinessLine .

What is that which makes the innovative ecosystem types evolve in Kerala without focal actors which not many others have an advantage of?

Good question. I believe this is because of what we call ‘institutional arrangements’ in our paper. For example, there is collective shared memory among key stakeholders involved in humanitarian type projects. IEEE Kerala Section, for instance, is pioneers within IEEE globally on humanitarian projects and their volunteer network is really strong and committed to such projects. When such ready networks and shared memory exist, they act as a basis for ecosystem evolution without the need for a hierarchical organisation-type focal actor.

Even while we talk about these interventions, the handling and management of both Kerala Floods and Covid-19 has come in for bad publicity for other reasons. Does it reflect badly on these initiatives/crowdsourced initiatives?

Both these initiatives were crucial in supporting tech-enabled data management and logistics planning. This facilitated government planning and response to handling the emergencies. In the case of floods, KeralaRescue was an innovation that came up after the dams were opened, so it was reacting to the need for relief and rehabilitation.

Also read: Innovation ecosystems in Kerala turn focus of study in British Journal Management

CoronaSafe, on the other hand, was more proactive, anticipating future needs and developing products such as ambulance and patient management. Of course, when handling large disasters, not all aspects are entirely controllable. So when it comes to the overall response in the long run, as you point out, there was bad publicity for other reasons. For example, there is potential for volunteer fatigue when efforts had to sustain for a long period in instances like Covid-19.

In hindsight, what are the things that these initiatives learn/unlearn as they move into a more uncertain future both on the pandemic and climate change front?

The key learning aspect for me is around a network of actors exhibiting collective learning in a decentralised manner. For such bottom-up initiatives, ‘open spaces’ with robust dialogue and experimentation are needed.

Once such spaces and networks are established within the ecosystem. The network is better prepared for future uncertain events based on their past collective memory and experience. What they unlearn from the experience is that planned and existing approaches are unlikely to work during emergencies; instead, they need to apply principles of agility to flexibly and dynamically adapt to the needs.