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Innovation in the field of public administration

Public administration has a key role to play in shaping the way we co-exist in society. In doing so, it faces major challenges: the climate crisis, demographic change and digitalization are complex issues that require new responses. Routine administrative processes quickly reach their limits in the face of these dynamic and highly complex developments. But this doesn’t have to be the case.

In recent years, new methods, tools and technologies have emerged that make it possible to address contemporary demands more effectively. They offer the opportunity to reshape the interactions between the state and society – and thus open up a wide range of perspectives for public administration, too.

People in focus

Up to now, whenever renewal projects have been started in administration, they have generally been guided by laws, regulations or rules. Public administration services are not used by laws, however: they are used by people. What sounds obvious at first glance is often less so on closer inspection: an administrative service is only a success if it matches the needs and values of the people who make use of it.

The tools of so-called human-centered design take the attitudes, desires and expectations of stakeholders and those responsible as their starting and end point. This underlying approach forms an important basis for the methods described in this book.

Change as a constant

Putting people at the center also means opening up change processes to external feedback and allowing for surprises. The classic “waterfall” model where extensive planning is carried out first and then implemented is proving to be insufficient here. If it is not until after the project has been completed that you discover the end result is neither accepted by its intended users nor does it work as expected, it’s too late.

Instead, a step-by-step approach to possible solutions is required for change to be successful. The aim is to find out more about the actual causes of a problem while at the same time testing and continuously developing a range of different strategies for solving it. In a sense, the step to practical implementation is not the end of the learning process but in fact the beginning: this is where the outcome is repeatedly adapted to fresh insights. The underlying principle here is an approach that is agile, i.e. adaptable.

A bold attitude and room to experiment

Agile project development requires a culture that allows and promotes cross-functional collaboration and self-organization among employees. Successful public innovation comes down to skilled individuals who are able to act on their own responsibility. This requires transparency, openness and mutual appreciation.

When an approach of this kind is used in highly hierarchical organizations, it is sometimes necessary to lay the foundations for this type of collaboration first. Innovation projects for which guidance is provided in this book can be deliberately used to break with routine and question existing processes within a defined framework. These kinds of experiences are often so positive that they provide an impetus for more profound change.

In order to experiment with new possibilities, a protected space is needed in which a change of perspective is possible and the potential of failure is permitted – so long as this generates fresh insights. By “space” we don’t mean a segregated physical location so much (although that can help), but primarily time, resources, legitimacy, and trust.