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Mind the gap! A Norwegian Trial Incentive Program to stimulate government agencies management resources.

Format: Papers, RSD6, Topic: Policy & Governance

Benedicte Wildhagen and Sissel Kristin Hoel

Public sector innovation
Service design
Systems Oriented Design
Wicked problems
User needs
Policy in practice
Triple Diamond
Design tools for policy

The Norwegian public sector is hierarchically structured and is organized in sectors, creating silo management. However, increasing number of challenges cut across levels of government and sectors. In order to make improvements, new solutions are required to bridge the gaps, but this is hampered by inexperience and a lack of skills in how to promote innovation in regulations, procedures and the exercise of authority. All though each agency performs as requested, there is a lack of overall perspective along with incentives to solve challenges in between and across agencies, sectors and levels of government. Globalization, climate crisis and digitalization, along with strained budgets tend to fuel wicked problems. Nonetheless, tighter budget frames have made the priority of main tasks within every agency even more explicit. This is how the compartmentalization of the government administration has developed. But this is not rational for the society as a whole. Many critical challenges are in need of broad systemic improvements combined with a focus on real people’s needs, demanding cooperation across several sectors. This is especially challenging in a hierarchical system, like the government administration. No one seems to be the owner of cross-cutting services, but many are responsible for individual pieces within the whole. To disentangle cross-cutting and wicked problems there is a need for innovation. But innovation involves risk-taking and the government administration is risk averse. Government agencies are focused on control and reaching performance goals, while innovation require experimentation, trial and error, courage and curiosity. This is the backdrop for the Ministry of Local Government and Modernization’s assignment to Difi to developed a Trial Incentive Program to strengthen innovative capabilities in the public sector (2016-2017). The program objectives are to stimulate government agencies to use innovative methods, including service design, to develop comprehensive services that are better for the users and provide more efficient use of resources for management. NOK 10 million is to be used during two years, to achieve actual results by the end of 2017. Approach and results
The need for an interdisciplinary approach was evident – both to design the Trial Program, and to identify, qualify and support projects. Difi entered into a partnership with DOGA, another government agency, which possesses design expertise along with experience in public sector innovation. A total of eight projects have received support and funding from the Trial Program. They aim to invent or develop new systems, processes and services, with relentless focus on real people’s needs and reduction of management resources. Most projects aim to solve problems across agencies and sectors, and many involve digitalization of services. Management commitment and an organizational potential for innovation have been a prerequisite. Contrary to what is mainly done internationally, where public Lab’s develop and deliver solutions for public actors, we have chosen to utilize the market. In order to ensure that innovative service concepts are implemented, we have pre-qualified ten consortia that offers a competence-triangle; service design is supported by change management and KPI-development and -realization. From this pool, we procure suppliers that meet the needs of each projects. In addition, new competencies are generated among the suppliers, and an overall larger market for suppliers is accessed in the public sector. It is in no way straightforward to detect connections between cause and effect within complex challenges in public sector, as they tend to consist of many factors along with several gaps and multiple actors, and the relationships between them all might be incomprehensible. As a consequence, we stress the need to make a diagnosis before “describing medicine”. Subsequently we have made certain parts of our requests for proposals, less conclusive and far more open than what is customary in a public-sector procurement. We believe supplying the consortiums interdisciplinary competencies at an earlier stage, will shift a typical focus on symptoms and assumptions of what is needed to a broader systemic understanding. The projects are required to spend time to navigate the complexity, to reveal underlying root-causes and needs, as means to identify innovation potential with a focus on real people’s needs. Finally, at the end of the initial diagnosis-phase, it should be possible to define a suitable approach by which overall objectives and quality can be achieved, within the framework of change capabilities, time and budget at hand. This is added to the contract. Based on Difi and DOGA’s expertise in public management and -law, procurement, design and public innovation the collaboration has evolved into a per se innovation-team. We have developed both the Trial Incentive Program and the services we provide, in a hands-on, practical, tight and un-bureaucratic manner of working, with emphasis on learning by doing, curiosity, trial and error. Most of our projects involve several agencies across sectors, representing complex issues. Getting these government agencies coordinated is demanding. The funding has drawn initial attention to the Trial Program, but our main contribution is to mature innovation readiness in every case, by supplying innovation skills, user perspective and minimizing risk at the preparatory stage. Conclusion
Many talk about government innovation and cross-sector improvements, but not many do. Our work with the Trial Program will continue testing and experimenting throughout 2017, providing us with concrete examples, various results, diverse new insights and knowledge of:
– how relentless focus on real people’s needs and reduction of management resources can result in improved and comprehensive cross-sector public services
– the effect of the competency-triangle of service design, supported by change management and KPI development and realization, to innovate public sector – and why, and if, the application of the competency-triangle is relevant
– what an i-team contributes to public sector innovation, and why it is needed (in Norway)
– how diagnosis and the triple diamond enhance the understanding of underlying root causes, before we explore, define, develop and deliver Our presentation will be a lecture (ppt-presetentation) with contributions from both Difi and DOGA. The presentation will include concrete examples and results from both the ongoing projects and the program, visualizations, images and videos.

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Citation Data

Author(s): OCTOBER 2017
Title: Mind the gap! A Norwegian Trial Incentive Program to stimulate government agencies management resources.
Published in: Proceedings of Relating Systems Thinking and Design
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First published: 12 October 2017
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