Many technology innovation hubs are developing impactful, locally relevant civic tech solutions to pressing commercial and social issues. Given that most hubs’ ‘double bottom line’ approach to their communities and the impact they aspire to, they are faced with becoming political animals. Many of the challenges they tackle require negotiating or renegotiating power relationships, and co-creating public sector policy solutions.
There is latent, but recognised, potential for tech innovation hubs in the global South to play a more overt role in promoting social change through contributing to the ‘thickening’ of local democratic space and policy co- creation. Unfortunately, in many cases, the mutual trust, understanding of incentives and shared buy-in that would facilitate this co-creation and collaboration between tech innovation hubs and public sector partners are lacking. Often, hubs avoid policy engagement altogether, or are constrained to doing so in ad hoc, superficial or premature ways. Five emerging types of engagement can be identified.
Still, there are some telling and inspiring micro-exceptions. Many hubs have started establishing long-term, strategic advisory and advocacy relationships with policy-makers. Further, hubs’ asks to policy-makers are solidifying around becoming more open, providing less restrictive financial support, procuring locally developed innovations as opposed to foreign imports, and general policy reform to support the innovation ecosystem.
In sum, the full potential of tech innovation hubs to contribute to a more vibrant local policy ecosystem is yet to be achieved. Changes in attitude, strategic outlook and partnership- building are required for tech hubs, funders and policy-makers to jointly fulfill that vision. These changes would help hubs take the next step from innovative communities to influential political actors, should they so choose.