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Innovation in government - building an agile and citizen-centric public sector


Governments are currently facing accelerating technological and social changes. The complexity and interdependence of today’s 'wicked problems' require radically new approaches to public policy, regulation and service delivery. There is increased pressure on governments to work differently and more efficiently, to engage more with citizens and to transform their operations to harness the opportunities afforded by digital technologies and to adapt faster to emerging challenges. Driving systemic change requires change-makers and champions of innovation within the public sector, as government is the best placed to scale up meaningful solutions. This will require sweeping changes of mind-set and modus operandi in public authorities. As the role of the state evolves, governments must become proactive problem solvers and close collaborators with a wide variety of stakeholders throughout the innovation ecosystem to co-create new solutions.

A growing number of governments are strongly committed to improving their policies, programmes and services. Shifting to a user-centric focus that puts the citizen at the centre, public actors increasingly recognise the need for inclusive and sustainable responses to societal challenges. Most government innovation projects, however, stay small and never scale up to the point where they can make a difference within government administrations in the long run. Innovation is not yet considered a strategic function of government, or the core business of public administrators. There is therefore a need to support governments’ internal innovation efforts through an exchange of experiences and by concrete practical support based on their needs, in order to move from sporadic innovations to systemic transformations.

Based on the achievements and work of the Observatory of Public Sector Innovation managed by the OECD, governments would benefit from further knowledge sharing in an international context, collaboration and support in the practical application of new knowledge in areas of specific interest (e.g. system thinking and systemic transformations, experimentation, co-creation with the ecosystem, stakeholder engagement, dealing with complexity; matrix organizations; organizational culture development; innovation skills development; organizational frameworks conducive to innovation, innovation in regulation, etc.) in real life contexts. Building on this experience, the activity should focus on the following:

  • Developing and piloting practice-led reflections and learning programmes to support governments in their role as change agents (e.g. skills, mindset, organizational culture, hackathons, boot camps for public leaders and administrators);
  • Fostering an international conversation, allowing for exchange of experiences and peer learning between governments, including intensifying collaboration among public innovation practitioners (including workshops, developing common projects for incubation in real life contexts) in order to support the development of innovators in government.
  • Developing a new public sector innovation theory (instead of existing attempts using the business innovation logic) that will support better measurement of public sector innovation in an internationally comparative manner.

The Commission considers that proposals requesting a contribution from the EU of EUR 1.5 million would allow this specific challenge to be addressed appropriately. Nonetheless, this does not preclude submission and selection of proposals requesting other amounts. Demonstration of applicants' own investment to complement the available Commission contribution would be an asset.

Given the weight and importance of the public sector in driving economic growth and competitiveness, tightening government budgets, increasing expectations of greater citizen participation in the design and delivery of public services and societal challenges that require new solutions, there is an urgent need to promote innovation and experimentation in the public sector. The purpose is to improve continuously the development of public policy, as well as the efficiency and delivery of public programs and services, and to enhance thereby the creation of public value.

The action will deliver learning programmes, (inter-governmental) collaborative projects and a growing body of practical experiences and knowledge, which will support the development of a 21st century model of innovative governance and government. The action will also contribute to embedding innovation as the new normal in government operations and to building inclusive and sustainable innovation communities in the public sector.