How can innovation improve the design of policies and services in the public sector?

On 11 May 2021, more than 100 innovation executives from 36 countries attended the OECD Workshop, in collaboration with the Austrian Government, on innovation-driven innovation.

The Innovation and Best Practices Department, Directorate of Strategic Planning and Innovation of the Ministry of Interior, a member of the OECD Innovation Network, collaborated with the OECD Innovation Observatory and the meeting was attended by representatives of 11 members, in the Public Sector Innovation Network, which has been established and operates since 2020.

The workshop was the second cycle of innovation workshops regarding the 4 facet model. The executives who attended observed the way in which innovation is linked to the improvement of critical performance indicators of a public organization, such as efficiency and productivity. They also learned about methods and tools for developing improvement-oriented innovation.

What is improvement-oriented innovation?

According to the presentation of Dr. Piret Tõnurist from OPSI, responsible for OPSI's work on systems thinking, innovation measurement, and preventive governance, improvement-oriented innovations are innovations that seek to improve or upgrade practices a public organization already implements, achieving better results or efficiency, and usually based on existing structures and value examples.

These innovations are often more gradual than transformational (radical or divisive innovations), but they can serve as a gateway for higher-risk innovations that can lead to more structural change. They are the backbone and the majority of innovations in public administration and are usually a large part of the innovation portfolios of public organizations.

Speakers' presentations

Patrick Dunleavy, Professor of Political Science and Public Policy at the London School of Economics, spoke about the potential for improving the productivity of public administration and identified three factors that can help:

1) specialization and professionalism,

2) capital increase (eg introduction of an automated procedure in immigration services) and

3) external technological changes (eg digitization)

These three factors can improve productivity, but the benefits will depend on the capacity and overall society context, citizens / users and each organization individually.

Moreover, he talked about the difference between productivity and efficiency.

Chiara Varazzini from the OECD, responsible for the OECD's work in the field of behavioral sciences, spoke about how the behavioral sciences can help public sector policy makers. Most policies are based on assumptions about human behavior, which are often incorrect. Public organizations have three tools to change behaviors: 1) data, 2) regulations /  legislation, 3) incentives.

These tools are often enough to change users' behavior. That is why the use of behavioral sciences is important and effective.

Dr. Tobias Polzer from the Vienna University of Economics and Management spoke about the relationship between trends in public administration and innovation. He noted that some trends, such as that of new public management, aim to increase efficiency, while others, such as that of new public administration, focus on improving quality and promoting innovation. The framework plays a role in the success of any type of innovation. In the case of improvement-oriented innovation, it often takes the form of small changes, which, however, can lead to transformation over time.

Case studies

Two cases from the Austrian public administration were presented at the workshop.

The first presented the changes and innovations that have been implemented in the administration of the city of Vienna, which emerged after the self-evaluation and improvement, with the help of the tool of the Common Evaluation Framework (CAF), which is based on Total Quality Management and the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

The second presented the work done by the Austrian tax service which concerns the digital tax administration and the introduction of chatbot, with emphasis on the new specialized platform, which is the most widely used digital platform in Austria. It was presented as an example of improvement-oriented innovation and how a public organization can change its approach and way of working and use new tools to improve. This service used a new user-centric approach for the implementation of the project. Conducted a brainstorming session, implemented workshops with users and experts, and involved users during project development (eg through in-service research).

Group discussions

The participants were then divided into three groups.

The first group discussed the improvement and redesign of services and the challenges encountered such as e.g. where to start when one wants to redesign a service, problems in the organizational structure, such as lack of staff or resources and issues of user involvement in the process.

Behavioral science techniques were discussed in the second group. A case was presented from Austria for the reduction of antibiotic use, while the participants discussed the challenges of their implementation, such as e.g. the lack of knowledge and understanding of the behavioral sciences.

The third group focused on the use of technology and the provision of services. A case of telemedicine was presented and the use of telemedicine was discussed in more depth.

Participation in innovation workshops

If you consider innovation to be an important tool for improvement and want to know how you can incorporate innovation processes into your work, the Innovation and Best Practices Department organizes innovation workshops where network members are familiar with the Public Sector Innovation Model of the Ministry of Interior.

You can see more on the OECD 4 aspects of innovation here:

4 Facets Of Innovation


4 Facets Of Innovation

Categories: Labs

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