How can a resource-constrained government determine what social or economic challenges it should take on, and when? Once the government has identified these challenges, how can it quickly establish systems for developing and implementing solutions? In 2015, the Global Knowledge Initiative (GKI) partnered with designer Mariko Takeuchi, the World Bank, and the South African government to help education stakeholders identify the most important challenges in education to address through Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) and—in doing so—developed structures to answer those questions.
GKI, which has supported education policy design efforts in Africa since 2010, developed and implemented a structure to identify critical challenges. These challenges serve as a focal point for a larger process utilized by the South Africa government, called Operation Phakisa (“Phakisa” means “Hurry up” in the Sesotho language). Operation Phakisa is based on an immersive policy development methodology built by the Malaysian Government in 2009, and which has now been spread to a number of countries in the developing and industrialized world. A key mechanism used by Operation Phakisa is the Delivery Lab methodology—intensive multi-week policy development sessions engaging numerous stakeholders across sectors to create detailed, well-resourced implementation plans to fast-track responses to high-level challenges. The Operation Phakisa methodology has been utilized by two other South African Government departments to date; the Department of Environmental Affairs and Department of Health. In late 2014, the South African Presidency determined that the next Delivery Lab would focus on ICTs in education.
Improving the quality of education remains a persistent challenge in South Africa, despite having one of the highest rates of public investment in education in the world. At the same time, the government has begun implementing ICT-based interventions aimed at both improving student achievement and making the implementation of education programs more efficient. Through Operation Phakisa, the government hoped to develop an implementation strategy that would link integrated ICT investments to improvements in learning. However, before holding a Delivery Lab to develop an implementation strategy, South Africa recognized that it needed to identify the key challenges that should be tackled.
In early 2015, GKI worked with Operation Phakisa, The Department of Basic Education, and Mariko Takeuchi to develop a unique innovation lab methodology focused on understanding the underlying challenges in education by applying a human-centered design approach. The result of this design work was the Challenge Scoping Lab model, which explored problems within the education sector and then identified those key challenges that establish the strongest focal points for ICT interventions to be designed in the Delivery Lab. Understanding the challenges most critical to education requires clarifying opportunities and constraints confronting users of the education system (students, parents, etc.), those responsible for implementing education programs (teachers, administrators, etc.), and other stakeholders (tech firms, unions, etc.).
Kicked off in June 2015, the Lab involved a cohort of 10 education professionals who conducted ethnographic research to understand the needs of stakeholders and—by comparing these insights to systematic challenges identified by education experts—began identifying the most pressing challenges facing education. This group then worked with 30 additional stakeholders, including representatives from the private sector, unions, government, and other groups from across South Africa, to shape these insights into a list of 46 critical challenges.
These challenges ranged from “How might we develop a solution that allows provinces to ensure that accredited training is delivered to teachers?” to “How might we develop a solution that allows learners to have regular, predictable access to the internet?” and focused on the needs of teachers, students, provinces, and other key stakeholders. The challenges identified through this process provided a strong launch pad for South Africa’s education sector stakeholders to develop a robust ICT in education implementation strategy during the Delivery Lab held in October 2015—an important step toward delivering on the South African government’s promise to significantly improve the country’s education system.