Innovation crucial for China

Updated: 2013-04-09 13:43

By Renata Dessallien (China Daily)

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Great emphasis has recently been placed on the need for innovation in China. At the annual session of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, President Xi Jinping emphasized the importance of innovation-driven development for accelerating the transformation of China's economic growth pattern and solving deep-rooted problems.

But how can innovation be cultivated? How can individual and collective minds be freed of the stale hallways of repetitive habit? And how can it be ensured that creative ideas are heard and heeded in public decision-making processes?

From my experience in other countries, each piloting its own way forward, I have observed that innovation springs from many sources. It stems from a well-rounded education system, which combines knowledge acquisition with problem solving skills. It emerges from the socio-cultural and political space for individuals and groups to express their views and ideas openly. This includes space within hierarchical and bureaucratic relationships - where one's contribution is valued as much, if not more, than one's rank and status, and it includes social space in the sense that the society values innovation.

With respect to innovation as part of the national project, it also comes from a government's ability to reach out to its citizens, consult them, involve them in deliberations on issues that affect them, and encourage people and communities to take initiatives to solve their problems themselves. This can release waves of creative and innovative thinking that enriches decision making in the public sphere and, equally importantly, can generate enthusiasm and a sense of common purpose among the public.

It is not always easy for governments to reach out to the citizenry in a meaningful way, especially in a huge and diverse county like China. How to ensure that the citizens' voices that are heard are not just the loudest ones or the ones with Internet connectivity? How to manage the tension between the desire for open solicitation of views, and the manageability of processing millions of responses? How to genuinely understand the different views expressed when some of them stem from frames of reference that may not be entirely familiar to the analysts deciphering the messages?

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