Lene Krogh Jeppesen, senior consultant at the Danish National Centre for Public Sector Innovation, has a quite ambitious project on her plate: Together with her team, she measures innovation in the public service. We had the chance to meet her in person at the Creative Bureaucracy Festival in Berlin last week. In our interview, she talks about her work and how Denmark makes innovation in the public sector visible with an InnovationBarometer.
Dear Lene, thank you very much for taking the time to exchange with us from Denmark. You work as a senior consultant at the National Centre for Public Sector Innovation (COI). Could you briefly explain to our readers the mission of your organisation and its purpose?
We are a team of nine people and operate across the entire Danish public sector, which is employing 750’000 civil servants. Our mission is to contribute to the public sector becoming more efficient and delivering services and products of higher quality through innovation. For example, we focus on issues such as strategies for fostering innovative behaviour or improving innovation capacity. We then deliver easily accessible information on these topics for use by decision-makers, thought leaders, and innovators themselves. Because our team at the National Centre for Public Sector Innovation in Denmark is so small relative to the clients we serve, we rely on partnerships to increase our own efficiency and our ability to make a difference. Collaboration is key to our projects’ success and to maintaining the networks that allow us to make an impact.
Statistics on innovation have been conducted for over 20 years already within the private sector. Why did you decide it was important to implement an equivalent practice within the public service?
Public sector innovation has reached a rather mature level in Denmark. However, our understanding of innovative projects remained largely anecdotal and was lacking a context that would make it possible to grasp results and consequences. We recognized the need to frame results in concrete numbers and statistics that aided in building a true knowledge base. The Oslo Manual, published by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), served as our reference and foundation for data collection. As the Oslo Manual provides guidelines for obtaining and using data within the private sector, we adapted it to fit the public service context and resolve disparities between the two sectors. The project’s launch enables us to address concerns across all three levels of government. This made it possible to avoid perceptions of territoriality. For example, had we acted only on the state level, municipalities could have suspected us of being a controlling force that would attempt to measure local initiatives without giving proper credit for them. Having a foundation across all three levels made it easier to gain access to people.
The COI obtains data on public sector innovation through the InnovationBarometer. Could you briefly illustrate what the tool consists of and which methods you use to collect relevant data?
Based on an adapted version of the Oslo Manual, the InnovationBarometer is a tool that assesses the extent of innovation within the Danish public sector. COI and Statistics Denmark conduct the assessment jointly with the aim of inspiring public institutions. We created a survey that is submitted directly to workplaces, an approach that provides us with more precise information than we could access by contacting the ministry in charge. Survey questions relate to an innovation implemented (a product, service, method of communication or process / method of organisation) that had a significant impact on the institution’s working method during the past two years. We draw data from the responses and, after evaluating the data, create a 15- to 20-page analysis that is assembled thematically and organized into material that is easily shared via social media. We even published a book. But instead of writing an extensive report, our focus lies on spreading the results: We spend at least as much time on communicating and connecting people as we do on collecting and analysing the data by integrating the numbers into our presentations, conferences, and talks.
Which findings took you by surprise? And which ones provide evidence for areas that need improvement?
We consider four findings particularly significant. First, 80% of the public sector workplaces have implemented an innovative product or service within the past two years. Nobody would have expected a number this high, and we are extremely pleased by the result. The second takeaway marks the importance of political leadership: Politicians are involved in 69% of public sector innovations. This finding led to our new project, collecting more qualitative data on the role of politicians and analysing how they act together with civil servants. Politicians don’t necessarily realise how crucial their contribution is for public sector innovation. Third, 73% of the innovations are copied or inspired by others. This supports the idea that innovation is shared and contradicts the assumption that public sector innovation means reinventing the wheel over and over again. We are currently discussing whether copying more and adapting even less might lead to a better use of resources. Finally, it’s worth remembering that only 44% of innovations are being evaluated. Such a low percentage poses a problem because we cannot gauge whether an innovation creates value or makes a difference without evaluating it. To tackle the issue, we conducted some qualitative research and co-created a toolkit on how to evaluate public sector innovation.
You mentioned not only the importance of measuring but also of spreading innovation. Which tools do you use in order to bring across numbers?
Encouraging the proliferation of innovation is a complex process. Of course, you can attend conferences or read articles about other people’s ideas, but this is knowledge sharing, not spreading innovation. Technically speaking, an innovation is not spread before it is implemented in a new workplace. We have developed a guide that supports the process by facilitating the dialogue between the party sharing and the party reusing the innovation. Another successful project is the four-year-old National Innovation Internship, which matches interns with workplaces across Denmark's public sector for a two- to five-day internship. This gives them the opportunity to visit the host workplace to gain insight into another organisation’s work, ask questions, and return with fresh ideas. Staff at the two participating workplaces often stay in touch and continue to inspire each other long after the program has ended.
Could you provide us with concrete examples of authorities in Denmark having implemented an inspiring innovation?
There are so many great examples! One of our favourites, however, is the case of the municipality Roskilde just outside Copenhagen that works with complaint-driven innovation. Instead of seeing a citizen’s or company’s complaint as an annoying task to deal with, the municipality treats it as an opportunity to learn and improve by creating a map of the complaint journey, including all the contact points, to better understand the system. This map identifies problematic areas within service delivery, which creates a foundation for developing new procedures and better answers. The municipality’s evaluation of the results reveals a more effective use of resources and an overall increase in customer as well as employee satisfaction.
Do you have any recommendations for a country with a decentralized system such as Switzerland?
Denmark’s system is very decentralised, as well, so if we can measure innovation, Switzerland would be perfectly able to follow suit! I believe decentralisation is an asset when conducting public sector innovation statistics assessments. You will find a vast number of innovation actors out there to collaborate with and collect data from, whereas in a country with a more centralised system, one major actor might have a more dominant position. Apart from that, we are working on a so-called Nordic public sector innovation cookbook that answers common questions we receive on how to launch an InnovationBarometer – we hope it will be useful if someone in Switzerland decides to implement an InnovationBarometer one day.
Lene Krogh Jeppesen is a senior consultant at the National Centre for Public Sector Innovation (COI) in Denmark. Her responsibilities involve evaluating and spreading innovation within the Danish public sector and maintaining the COI’s international network, mostly with other Nordic countries. Lene has previously worked for the Danish Customs and Tax Administration as well as the City of Copenhagen where she was responsible for innovation, knowledge sharing, and social media. She holds a master’s degree in sociology from the University of Copenhagen.