Pioneers Insights: How Startup Collaboration Can Enable a More Innovative Public Sector

By April 5, 2018February 2nd, 2024No Comments

In the latest blog post written by a team member from our consultancy arm, Pioneers Discover, we take a look at how thinking with a ‘design’ mindset can accelerate innovation in the public sector and make dealing with governments a more pleasant, efficient and productive experience for both regular citizens and business people. And with GovTech.Pioneers now less than two months away on May 23rd, it’s a fitting time to examine the future potential of design and collaboration models in the public sector.

It’s safe to say pretty much everyone hates appointments with public institutions. Why? Because they almost always mean a lot of wasted time and a dull, impersonal experience.

Considering the tools available to us in today’s digital age, this is no longer good enough: the public sector needs a radical change towards a more human-centered organization. Because the purpose of the public sector is to help and assist its citizens – not to make their lives more complicated.

One of the methodologies that’s become something of a buzzword when it comes to improving public sector services is design thinking. In Denmark, for example, its potential to transform services for the mentally disabled, reduce tensions in prisons and reshape waste management has already been discovered.

Companies such as IDEO, whose Portfolio Director Peter Jackson will speak at GovTech.Pioneers on May 23rd in Vienna, are among those leading the way in bringing design principles to governments. apolitical, a global network helping public servants inspire each other with their ideas and successes, and which will have a representative join us in Vienna, is another bringing design thinking to the forefront.

A further increasingly important aspect in the discussion around innovating the public sector are public-private collaborations, both on a large scale and, perhaps more importantly, on local levels, where we at Pioneers see the biggest impact.

Pioneers Discover recently kicked off a project in Carinthia – a rather rural but beautiful part of Austria. The state of Carinthia sees the importance and future potential of startup-driven innovation especially for the traditional SME structure of the regional economy and is therefore trying to push this topic and inspire entrepreneurs. Pioneers Discover and Start.Net, a local network of companies with a focus on SMEs, organized a Collaboration Day during which Carinthian entrepreneurs where introduced to the world of innovation and startups. This one-day event aimed to inform SMEs about potential collaboration possibilities with startups, showcasing the advantages and potential of innovation and supporting them in building a community of entrepreneurs to drive the innovation and startup community in Carinthia forward. As small scale SME business structures will face large upcoming change and, with this, even bigger challenges, innovation and new collaboration models are becoming crucial especially for the smaller players in the eco-system.

Pioneers lead the participants through a day which first gave them theoretical input through different key notes and best practice examples and challenged their insights with workshops in the afternoon.

To see two completely different business ideologies come together – the rather traditionally coined SME structure and the dynamic, young startup culture – was eye-opening. But what really stood out was the mutual interest in each other: As the day continued, the Pioneers Discover team noticed growing confidence and interest for one another among the participants, who began to take first steps towards getting to know each other. In the afternoon, similarities prevailed and differences were set aside in order to innovate and create using new collaboration models.

For the Pioneers Discover team, this was a perfect example of how a local initiative can create real impact through new forms of collaboration – creating a symbiosis of two different ideologies both interested in driving innovation.

With Change comes Challenge

Even though such success stories might make it look like design-led innovation is disrupting the public sector, there are still major challenges to overcome.

Creating empowered environments in the public sector / Although new entities are being created to help design principles take root, there’s still a formidable challenge in embedding this approach within government. Many design-centered initiatives are still struggling to find their place as a legitimate part of the policy-making infrastructure.

Embracing Uncertainty / It requires a system of adequate incentives for bureaucrats to engage in this experimental mode, under which failures would be considered and valued as much as concrete progress. We need more hands-on initiatives, similar to the Collaboration Day in Carinthia, to start impactful startup-driven innovation which can engage local communities, the level at which a change of innovation culture has to start.

Opening up bureaucracy to co-production / When public sector organizations start taking a more user- or citizen-centric approach to innovation, they invariably discover how many other entities and stakeholders play critical roles in people’s lives. Human-centered design forces these organizations to have a much broader, collaborative, and inclusive view of who needs to be part of the process of co-creating initiatives that will can be applied in day-to-day life.

Perception of Public Sector as a Target Market / Public sector organizations cannot rely solely on internal expertise for design-led innovation – they simply don’t possess enough of the required skills. The market for consultancy services for public sector design, however, is still immature, and in some countries even declining. Even in Denmark, a country with a proud architecture and design heritage, there’s no design consultancy which has yet singled out the public sector as its main client.

The Way Forward

Design thinking and new collaboration models in the public sector are still at the beginning of their journey. But a number of factors may help us all appreciate the nature and benefits of them sooner rather than later.

The ability of founder minds to spot opportunities to solve real problems, such as was seen in Carinthia, are a real push factor in this case. Sometimes, using a window of opportunity is all it takes.

Providing an agile human-centered service that evolves with technological and social challenges is a job perfectly suited for startups. We at Pioneers believe startup-driven innovation is the way to improve old systems that are simply no longer able to cope with the tremendous changes reshaping the world around us.

The environment around government changes quickly and so do their challenges. This means startups will inevitably play a key role in showing the potential of any new methodology such as design thinking.

Let’s believe in the innovation process, and what it can ultimately do to enable governments and the public sector to help, support and engage with entrepreneurs and citizens. Let’s believe it can be a route to less frustrating interactions at your local public sector office and maybe even bring up new models of collaboration were startups can gain a significant role and enlarge their eco-system. Now we all need to work to give innovative ideas like this the chance to flourish.

Interested in what design thinking and a host of other new approaches and technology can do for the public sector? Then join the likes of Peter Jackson and GovLab Director Beth Noveck at GovTech.Pioneers in Vienna on May 23rd. Buy tickets here.