On November 17, 2020, the Ministry of Interior, organized a conference on innovation management and managing of the COVID-19 pandemic crisis as well as the actions we are looking for the next day. The conference was completed with a great deal of participation and remarkable conclusions, lasted 3 hours and 45 minutes and was attended by 418 people, who participated from the beginning to its completion.
Mrs. Paraskevi Charalambogianni, Secretary-General of Human Resources of the Public Sector, opened the Conference works. She coordinated the event introducing the Minister of Interior, Mr. Takis Theodorikakos and the speakers of the round table. Watch here the introduction and the speech of the Minister of Interior.
The Minister of Interior presented the Ministry's actions regarding human resources management in the public sector during the crisis, whose innovative features consist, among other things, of teleworking, alternative working hours, protection forms of vulnerable social groups and supporting policies of the Greek family. In this context, the local government has emerged as a pillar of social cohesion and solidarity, with innovative actions to utilize its human resources and implement a programs variety, such as "Help at Home".
In addition, the Minister referred to specific actions implemented in the field of innovation policy in the last year, such as the signing of the OECD Public Sector Innovation Declaration, the Innovation Observatory creation, and the knowledge repository on the relevant platform https://innovation.gov.gr. He stated that the development of the national strategy for innovation in the public sector is a key-priority for 2021 and concluded by saying that "acceleration, modernization, transformation, change, simplification, improvement are all easier when you encourage creativity and remove the stereotypes that suppress creative action."
A round table followed with the participation of speakers from critical organisations that managed the pandemic crisis, which was coordinated by the Secretary-General of Human Resources of the Public Sector, Mrs. Paraskevi Charalambogianni. Watch the full video of the discussion here.
Presentation by Angeliki Bistaraki (Crisis Management Consultant to the Deputy Minister of Civil Protection and Crisis Management).
Ms. Bistaraki presented the "online covid-19 case tracking application", developed to identify, as closely as possible, the close contacts of a case, to carry out timely isolation, medical evaluation, and treatment, with the ultimate goal of limiting the spread of the virus. The close case monitoring system from the onset of the pandemic until July 2020 was handwritten. In August 2020, discussions began on assessing the operation of the existing system and the possible need to create an electronic tracking database.
The electronic database was finally in use on 27/8/2020. That demonstrates not only the importance of the political will, often discussed in the debate on public sector reforms, but also the capacity of the human resources of the Greek public administration to respond quickly and efficiently to emergencies. The presentation of this innovation is of particular interest, not only from a business point of view for public organizations but also for every citizen, as terms and procedures explained, with which we all try to get acquainted and are now part of our daily lives.
Presentation by Ioannis Kotsiopoulos (Secretary-General of Health Services, Ministry of Health)
Mr. Kotsiopoulos presented the overall response of the national health system to the unprecedented crisis of the pandemic. He focused on what to keep, what to leave behind, and what to change. He noted that we are not in a position to discuss "government aftershock" yet, as the hard second wave of the pandemic puts us in a "government in shock" context. However, it is particularly important to open a dialogue on how the country's government has dealt with the crisis so far.
Among the things we should leave behind is the underfunding of the health system, which was presented through indicators with international comparisons, and which contributed to its low - at least initially - degree of readiness. One of the things we need to keep in mind is the dedication and professionalism shown by all the staff of the health units throughout the crisis, as well as the huge effort to develop infrastructure and strengthen the equipment of the health system in a short period of time (almost doubled the country's infrastructure in ICUs within six months).
The innovative practices, which emerged from the effort to deal with the crisis, refer to the digitization of paper procedures of the entire NSS. That happens in collaboration with the Ministry of Digital Governance. It allows the direct monitoring of the condition of single beds, ICUs, warehouses, etc., and offers the possibility of predictions about where the system can push shortly. Also, intangible prescription, which had a primary purpose of avoiding contacts, especially for the vulnerable groups, leaves a legacy of improving the citizens' service. It also paves the way for the implementation of other programs, such as the remote support of patients at home through teleconsultation.
Finally, about what we should do differently, Mr. Kotsiopoulos referred to the resistance to change. Children were a shining example, showing commendable adaptability to the new measures and the new conditions. In closing, he expressed his optimism for the forthcoming availability of a vaccine and the gradual return to normality over two years. In a very-fast changing society, a fact demonstrated by the current crisis is that we too must be able to adapt quickly. The primary condition for that is the understanding of the need for change.
Presentation by Leonidas Christopoulos (Secretary-General of Digital Governance and Procedures Simplification).
Mr. Christopoulos presented the digital transformation of the public administration during the pandemic. He started with the goals of the relevant agenda of the Ministry of Digital Governance, as formed before the crisis. Among other objectives, mentioned below, the Ministry is committed to drafting a new digital strategy, which will be reflected in the Digital Transformation Book, to improve the country's position in the relevant European Union rankings.
In the case of this portfolio, pandemic did act as an accelerator, although this could not be the case without a coherent and targeted strategy. Thus, the existing strategy was implemented faster. New public service applications were also developed, without compromising transparency (something that is often a black spot in a time of crisis, when speed is required). Helpers in this effort were the citizens, who became aware of the need for transformation, and showed remarkable patience, which gave space to the Ministry for experimentation and solving possible problems.
The innovative tools, that were further promoted during the crisis, or were created because of it, include the single digital portal gov.gr - (in the spring of 2020 510 digital services were offered, while today the number of these services amounts to 710), the intangible prescribing, the electronic responsible declaration, the electronic provision of municipal and registry certificates, the e-presence platform for conducting teleconferences in the public sector, the "mydesklive" platform for the provision of public services remotely by appointment, the sms service at 13033 forma.gov.gr for the movement of citizens during a lockdown, the Passenger Locator Form for the control of entry into the country of travelers, the solidarity platforms (digitalsolidarity.gov.gr, ethelontes.go.gr, 3d-makers.gov. gr).
Apart from the field of crisis management and within the field of innovation in the public sector, the ambition of the Ministry of Digital Governance for a new national policy for administrative procedures included, which consists of three pillars: a) the new register of administrative procedures, b) the National Program for Simplification of Procedures, and c) the bureaucracy observatory. Finally, the planned "Phaistos" Fund is an innovation, which will finance investments of start-ups that are active in the research and/or development of products and/or services that operate in 5G infrastructure in Greece.
Presentation by Giannis Spiliotopoulos (Head of General Directorate of Human Resources in the Public Sector, Ministry of Interior).
Mr. Spiliotopoulos presented the institutional tools, introduced by the Ministry of Interior, regarding the management of human resources of the entire public sector, to achieve the difficult balance between the protection of public health and the smooth operation of public services. He pointed out that, as the pandemic phenomenon was a relatively unprecedented situation for public administrations worldwide, there were no good practices, or, in any case, a paved way for the public sector to respond. Therefore, the General Directorate of Human Resources of the Public Sector of the Ministry had to "invent" this response.
In this context, a wide range of administrative options has been introduced, so that each public service, depending on its particular characteristics, can operate under the new regime. Each public service draws up a work plan, which defines the staff who will work remotely - where this is compatible with the subject of the work, - as well as the staff absent using special-purpose leave (for students' parents and vulnerable groups), part-time staff (and the obligation to work overtime after the lifting of measures), and the staff who will offer work in shifts. Besides, it was necessary to strengthen e-government through teleconferencing, which was previously not very widespread, while emergency recruitment was carried out with flexible procedures, especially for the immediate support of the Ministry of Health.
Regarding the implementation of the new public sector work framework, the Ministry of Interior plays a key role in guiding and encouraging the assimilation of new data by public services, in an ever-changing environment. Of the reported changes, the big bet was telework, but the happy conclusion is that the civil service, despite being often accused of rigidity, and despite it has suffered since 2010, has responded to this change, although violent.
Presentation by Dimitris Papastergiou (Mayor of Trikala, President of K.E.D.E.)
Mr. Papastergiou welcomed the attempt to start the first round of discussions to record all the procedures and measures implemented during the crisis. Because when we return to normalcy (after the availability of a vaccine), there is a risk of being forgotten.
Municipalities usually perform when they need to improvise, although, at present, the enormous lack of information and knowledge about the "enemy" has made this effort extremely difficult. However, the system, having daily communication, both with the supervising Ministry, and with each possible involved body, and also with the guidance of K.E.D.E., coped. That happened given the fact that the country's municipalities are not largely digitized. A key priority was social cohesion. The braveness of the people who offered their services to the "Help at Home" program, the great support from the market and entrepreneurship, the smooth cooperation, most of the times, with the human resources of the municipalities, and the preventive decision-making in municipal councils contributed to this (in the sense that measures were introduced before requested by society, such as the exemption of municipal fees).
Digital innovations, such as the operation of the gov.gr portal, the platform for the undeclared sq.m., the teleconferences of the municipal councils, but also of the regional councils of K.E.D.E., are a victory of technology in favor of bureaucracy, a "monster" that needs daily war. They leave an important legacy for the future and are tools widely used today to assist in the current task of modernizing the institutional framework of local government. The overall response of the country's local government to the pandemic crisis has finally shown that we can change, and we can change quickly.
Presentation by Angelos Binis (Chief Executive Officer of the National Transparency Agency).
Mr. Binis presented the changes brought about by the pandemic crisis in the operation of the National Transparency Authority, which, in any case, given that it has been recently established, was in the process of designing new procedures and control approaches. The crisis has shown that we must leave behind the traditional ways of communication and cooperation, the traditional control methodologies, and the perception that the way we work is the right one. The answer to the question "why do we need to change?" is, because when the need is visible there will be no more time.
During this period, EAD strengthened its infrastructure, mainly with electronic equipment, while it also reformed its communication networks, confirming the idea that physical presence is not always necessary. In this context, and among other implemented ideas, the network of internal auditors for public administration, created on the website of the Authority, where best practices for internal audit work and training opportunities are posted, a library is available, there is a forum for the exchange of ideas and support is provided to assist the audit work of the bodies. In addition, a modern complaint form (set up by the pandemic) has been created, and the use of intranet has greatly facilitated the communication of all the regional services of the Authority, thus reducing the endless flow of live gatherings.
The need to change the way the Authority works, but also of the auditing bodies of the State in general, was demonstrated not only by the pandemic but also by the modern international approaches to preventive innovation. In this light, behavioral approaches to public integrity are utilized (exploring and reassessing the way in which stakeholders are persuaded to implement recommendations, as sanctions do not always bring the desired results), and "agile auditing" is promoted. in the sense that the design should respond easily and quickly to changes in the environment (It is indicative that the planning of the Authority's audits was carried out on a quarterly basis, while now it is necessary to redefine objectives and reschedule almost every two days). We need to be more open, listen faster, and adapt accordingly, replacing the ex-post approach with a punitive nature, with precautionary planning of structures, business operation, utilization of human resources, so that any next emergency (which is not always a natural disaster or health crisis) to find us more prepared.
Conclusions and summary
- What should we leave behind?
- The way of thinking that focuses on formalism and is not result-oriented.
- Outdated data collection systems with chaotic information.
- Centralism and competition.
- The underfunding of the health sector.
- The non-functional parts of the institutional framework of operation of the Greek public administration.
- The coordination difficulties with the absence of a common language, observed between the Ministries and the bodies involved, -although in general the coordination was achieved (and is included in the section of "what we should keep").
- The traditional ways of communication and cooperation.
- The perception that the way we work is the right one.
- What should we keep?
- The very effective response of the human resources of the public sector, and especially the dedication and ethics of the staff in the field of health. The consequent effort of the public administration for the optimal utilization of human resources.
- The cooperation between the Ministries, the local self-government bodies, and all the involved public bodies, in particular with the catalytic assistance of the Ministry of Digital Government.
- Balances in the public-private partnership.
- The use of technologies and the interconnection of applications between the bodies. The new tools alone are not enough to increase the efficiency of public services - they should link, where necessary, to institutional interventions. Ideally, we should first simplify the procedures and then digitize, without of course overlooking that even the simple digitization of a process improves the service of the citizen.
- The rapid change in mentality by making brave decisions and adopting new practices.
- On-time political decisions.
- The strengthening of the infrastructure of institutions, but also of the communication networks that were created and/or were utilized more widely.
- What do we need to change?
- The existing institutional framework for issues particularly highlighted by the crisis should be adapted gently and at a later time. Particularly:
- Modernization of the existing institutional framework for dealing with natural disasters is needed.
- A more flexible public accounting and public procurement system is required
- The need for further homogenization of K.E.P.
- Additional interventions are needed in the arrangements for staff leave in times of crisis
- The human resources of the Greek public administration must further strengthen and equip with new skills, to respond to the digital transformation of the public sector, but also to adapt easily and quickly to an ever-changing environment.
- The infrastructure of the institutions must also strengthen, to be better prepared to manage emergencies (eg mass citizens' requests).
- Intra-administrative bureaucracy should eliminate, to free up productive man-hours for front-line employees, such as the health sector, to provide real services
- The interconnection of the various public system bodies should deepen, and accordingly, the communication and exchange of information should become more frequent. In this context, it is appropriate to consolidate the emergency plans of public bodies.
- Services coordination should be specific, and there should be clear roles and responsibilities.
- To be more open, listen faster to the opportunities for change, to improve our predictive ability, and to include preventive innovation in our design.
Presentation by Leonidas Anthopoulos (Professor of Electronic Business at the University of Thessaly, Director of the Institute of Intelligent Production Systems and Smart Cities).
Mr. Anthopoulos tried to make a connection between the theory of innovation management and the speakers' presentations at the round table. For a public health system, the crisis performance indicator is the degree of resilience it exhibits. In a cycle that begins with the readiness of the system, continues with the ability to respond, and ends with the adaptation on a small or large scale, we would say that the public health system of our country is probably in the middle of it and that so far it has responded satisfactorily.
There was a coordinated and successful introspection of the Greek public sector regarding what it means to "produce innovation.". In this context, the role of the Greek public sector is to participate in the open innovation chain, cooperating with all actors in the innovation ecosystem, while it can also adopt standardized innovation processes. To operate innovatively we must have the knowledge. Given the great flight of scientists abroad, it is noted that it is not enough to invest in knowledge, but we must also invest in its preservation.
Through some international comparisons, our country's performance in dealing with the pandemic is considered satisfactory. Do we, however, have the productive forces of innovation (some of which are indicative of strategy and planning, quality management, human resources)? The answer here is yes too, but we should remark that there is much room for improvement. In conclusion and summary, one can observe that the Greek health system worked, demonstrating an ability to redesign structures and functions extremely flexible. The use of distance learning and teleworking can improve, the resilience of infrastructure has been tested, and the communication handling of the crisis has been particularly effective.
The next day should find us in the effort to interconnect the open innovation bodies, to further simplify the administrative procedures, to improve the country's position in the international indicators of digital transformation and innovation, to normalize the organizational structures, to introduce a reward system innovation, and to consolidate and maintain all those positive changes that we have had to make until today in the Greek public administration.
In the third and final part, the interactive workshop designed by the Department of Innovation and Best Practices took place. Watch the video of the workshop here.
The workshop introduced participants to the basic theory of the four facets model created by the Observatory of Public Sector Innovation, OECD. Then they were able to answer questions interactively, from which we can conclude the management of innovation in the Greek public administration. Read about the workshop conclusions here.
Head of the Department of Innovation and Best Practices, Christos Kokkalas, closed the conference. He summarized the main conclusions from the round table and the workshop. The conference is the first step of the initiative undertaken by the Ministry of Interior, and specifically the Directorate of Strategic Planning and Innovation of the General Directorate of Human Resources, to create a favorable environment for innovation in the Greek public administration, which will support all these actions that are currently being planned by public organizations, but also any initiatives that may still be in the idea stage. We remind that the institutions can submit their innovations for posting in the Innovation Observatory in this link and participate in the innovation network by submitting a registration form at this link.