6 emerging trends in government innovation

Source: OECD

What are the latest developments in government innovation? The OECD Observatory of Public Sector Innovation (OPSI) has conducted a global review of new ways in which governments are transforming their operations and improving the lives of citizens. The review has identified six trends that are shaping government innovation:

Trend 1: Combining human and machine data 
Governments are finding new ways of combining the insights of citizens with machine-generated data and analytics to improve government services. 

Social media, mobile phones, IoT, CCTV cameras, drones and satellites are generating previously inconceivable volumes of data on the physical and social environment. Innovative governments are using big data from these sensors to develop new approaches to understand and predict trends affecting societies. These machine-generated data are being combined with citizen-produced data and government data to gather new insights for strategic policy making and to support early warning systems.

For example, PetaBencana.id combines sensor data with citizen reports over social media to produce real-time flood maps in Jakarta, while UAE’s Extreme Weather App uses satellite data and algorithms to detect and predict sandstorms in Middle East. In Netherlands, police and fire departments use Twitcident to gather and analyze Twitter data to better respond to emergencies. 

To further catalyse innovation, governments are increasingly opening their data for public consumption in the form of Open Government Data (OGD). This allows data to flow freely, enabling ideas to be shared and built upon and expanding the innovative potential for government, industry and the public alike. 

Trend 2: Scaling government

Governments are finding new ways to scale up innovation, from small-scale pilots to larger government initiatives. 

Innovation labs: There has been a significant growth in the number of innovation labs in recent years. They are dedicated spaces for investigating and experimenting through trial and error to understand better what works in public service design and delivery, and provide an alternative to large scale programs and policies that may fail to achieve expected results.

Transformation teams: This approach creates a new delivery unit with the mandate to radically transform service delivery, with a strong emphasis on bringing in skilled people from the private sector. These teams work to knock down silos and advocate the use of agile and iterative practices. The UK’s Government Digital Service (GDS) was the first of its kind when it was activated in 2011. 

Incubators:  Innovative governments are reaching beyond the public sector to catalyze innovation in industry for social good. For example, Australia has launched DataStart, a public-private partnership to find, incubate and accelerate start-up ideas that leverage openly available data from the Australian Government.


Trend 3: Citizens as experts 

Innovative governments are realising that citizens are a critical component to designing public policies and services, and are engaging citizens at every stage of the policy cycle: from shaping ideas to designing, delivering and monitoring public services. In many cases, citizen expertise improves the design and delivery of services by making them more efficient and effective, and better attuned to real needs.

The goal is not merely to improve the quality of services provided, but also to transform the culture of government so that citizens are seen as partners who can shape policy and bring in new ideas and approaches. Ultimately, this can enhance citizens’ confidence in government, which is decreasing in many countries.

In the Agents of Open Government initiative in Brazil, citizens with useful skills are invited to develop and teach courses to government employees. Finland’s Place to Experiment platform connects citizen innovators with government and crowdfunded resources to find new ways to strengthen government programmes.


Trend 4:  Personalized services

Traditional government services are often highly compartmentalized, providing services in a disjointed fashion based on government structures, rather than the needs of the people. Innovative governments no longer require citizens to know the internal workings of large and complex bureaucracies to obtain services. They are designing user-centred services that provide holistic solutions which are more attuned to the needs of each individual citizen. 

User-centred design principles are being applied to public service delivery. For example, the US Digital Services Playbook and the UK GDS Design Principles promote a user-centred holistic approach to understanding people’s needs. These principles consider the whole experience from start to finish with an emphasis on understanding all points of interaction between a government service and its users.

The increasing volume of data available to governments has opened new opportunities for hyper-personalization, which can provide targeted services to maximize outcomes. The United States Precision Medicine Initiative takes into account individual differences in people’s genes, microbiomes, environments and lifestyles, making possible more effective, targeted treatments for diseases such as cancer and diabetes.

Services can even take anticipatory actions to address citizens’ needs before the citizen even knows that the need exists. For example, in Estonia, when a child is born in a hospital, all of the services connected to childbirth are automatically initiated.


Trend 5: Experimental government

To keep up with rapid change, governments are realizing that they need to experiment with new possibilities and gather evidence on which approaches work and which do not. By testing and validating new ideas at a manageable scale before diffusing and scaling-up, governments can explore new solutions while minimizing costs.

Government experiments can use a wide variety of structures and tools to validate ideas. Public sectors increasingly use randomized control trials (RCTs) and other evaluation methods to assess the impact of public policies on a reduced sample of individuals, so as to help identify promising practices that could be expanded to larger groups.

Finland has launched an initiative to experiment with and study the impact of innovative interventions. In its first major experiment, thousands of randomly selected unemployed citizens will receive a guaranteed basic income to replace their existing unemployment benefits to assess whether basic income can help reduce poverty, social exclusion and bureaucracy, while increasing the employment rate. The results of this and other experiments have the potential to reform services in Finland, and this approach could be replicated around the world.

While small in scale, these experiments have the potential to drastically change economic models, as well as the effectiveness of public services. Experimental government is about shaping the future of government, with evidence.


Trend 6: Transforming internal systems and processes

Innovations that have had a real impact include changes to structure, people and funding in government. Governments are looking “under the hood” to transform services from the inside out. Innovative end products are made possible by adjusting the internal mechanisms of government in ways that enable innovation.

Government organizations are working to attract and retain innovators by looking at all aspects of public HRM - from employer branding strategies to recruitment and selection processes, career development and pay systems. The Government of Chile has recently shown leadership in this area by working with OECD to develop the first in-depth study of public HRM from an innovation capabilities perspective. 

Innovations are not often spread systematically to other public sector workplaces and remain siloed within the organisations where they were developed. To break down bureaucratic silos, Denmark’s Spreading Innovation initiative provides guidance, tools and incentives to help spread innovative ideas from one organization to another through learning and dialogue among civil servants.

The process of government procurement is viewed by many as one of the most significant barriers to innovation. Some governments are using online procurement platforms to facilitate innovation. The United States Micro-purchase Platform uses online sealed-bid and reverse auctions to purchase software code, which allows them to bypass the cumbersome rules applied to larger procurement projects. 

Australia is currently beta-testing a Digital Marketplace, an ecosystem to link government buyers with suppliers, support two-way collaboration, and eventually provide a platform to launch challenges to which suppliers can pitch creative solutions.