ICT-Driven Public Sector Innovation in H2020: Initial Thoughts
Dr. Julia Glidden, Managing Director, 21c Consultancy
Ben Cave, European Projects Manager, 21c Consultancy
1. Views on the challenges, opportunities and vision presented
a. Challenge of Culture Change:
i. The importance of ‘empowering and training civil servants’ cannot be underestimated.
ii. The entrenchment of a ‘risk adverse culture’ and ‘business as usual procedures’ remains strong within government at all levels, creating an inherent obstacle to the introduction of new processes, products, services and methods that ICT alone cannot solve.
iii. Leadership from the top of government organisations, including the Commission, is critical to ensure that government services evolve at the right speed.
iv. Rather than attempt to keep pace with change (which is impossible given the current pace of ICT innovation), government leaders should promote the principles of ‘Open Innovation’ amongst civil servants, ensuring a cultural mindset that is flexible, adaptable and responsive to user feedback
b. Challenge of Co-Creation:
i. Participatory, bottom-up co-creation of services can create more effective, personalised experiences but the process increases the burden on citizens to participate.
ii. Making more efficient, cost-effective public services must mean more than having the citizen pay for and create their own services.
iii. To be maximally effective, government must provide structured parameters within with to co-create services.
iv. ‘Guided’ service co-creation will reduce the burden on citizens of participating in service co-creation whilst maximising the return for public administrations and citizens alike.
c. Challenge of Cross Border:
i. In addition to interoperability challenges, cross border service design and delivery also faces the challenge of providing localised services in a pan-European context.
ii. To meet this challenge, the delivery of cross-border services should focus on the creation of templates and standards that promote applications and services that can be easily adapted to local conditions rather than a ‘one-size fits all’ cloud-based vision
iii. For a project that is based upon this premise, see: http://www.citadelonthemove.eu/
2. Opinion of the Objectives Outlined
a. Open Government is a strong objective but it is important to identify the areas in which ‘government as an open platform’ is most likely to reap dividends. Feedback from non-specialist stakeholders in highly specialised areas such as national defence or financial regulation, for example, may not help government to achieve better policies because a) data is highly confidential and b) detailed expertise is required to provide useful feedback.
b. Transformation of Public Administration is a broad objective which seeks to accomplish a difficult goal. As highlighted above, one of the greatest barriers to transformation is the reluctance of public servants to change their working practices and embrace a more open approach to government. EU actions can help to promote an ‘innovation-aware’ model by a) encouraging top down policy leadership in this area, b) recognising and rewarding public sector innovators and c) supporting education and training that develops the latent capacity to drive further change.
c. Effective Public Services is increasingly intertwined with personalised service provision. As digital natives come into their own, ICT is reshaping the entire mindset that citizens have about their relationship with government. It is important for public administrators to appreciate that ‘effective’ is as likely to mean personalised as efficient to citizens in the years ahead.
3. Relevance, Importance and Missing Gaps in the possible areas of Research and Innovation Activities and Technologies
a. Future-Proofing: It is essential that the research framework is sufficiently flexible enough to take into account unforeseen changes in service requirements or technologies over the period to 2020. Given the rapid pace of change, the framework should also be flexible enough to move quickly and nimbly on good ideas, and to abandon bad ones.
b. Upskilling: The local government community, outside ‘Smart Cities’, is often the slowest to adopt new innovation and among the hardest hit by economic austerity. At the same time, local government often has the greatest impact upon citizens in their day-to-day lives. Innovation projects which bring together established local government actors with newer actors from smaller (often more rural) communities would help to drive innovation across Europe as a whole, rather than just the metropolitan hubs.
c. Open Data vs. Big Data: Expert groups tend to take concepts like Open Data for granted. Yet many Member States, not to mention regional and local actors, are still struggling to come to terms with the meaning and value of opening their data, let alone how best to do so. This problem will be dramatically compounded in the years ahead as we move from the Internet of Things to the Internet of People, or a world of over 50 million interconnected, data creating devices. Research and innovation activities are needed to ensure that public sector innovation does not become overwhelmed (or indeed left behind altogether) by an impending ‘data tsunami.’
4. Availability and maturity of technology to facilitate the proposed activities and how short, medium and long-term research may be able to support this
a. The technologies to support smart service innovation have, in many cases, been ubiquitous for some time. Much is made of social media which, technologically speaking, is a mature and fairly basic set of tools. Even more complex technologies such as IoT sensors or platform technologies are mature in technological terms at this moment. The key issue in terms of technology to facilitate innovation, then, is not maturity in technical terms but maturity in terms of application to government service innovation. Or, in other words, the maturity of public administrations to use technology to improve service delivery in a genuinely open and innovative manner.
b. The adoption horizon for govern services is of necessity longer than for private sector businesses due to the simple fact that government services cannot afford to ‘fail’ in the same way as in the private sector. For this reason, the key issue in terms of timeframe is to ensure the research and innovation programme has the flexibility to respond to short-term changes in the technology landscape in the pursuit of medium to longer term research priorities.
5. Other barriers and possible ways to overcome them through the help of H2020
a. Bureaucracy: Building a higher tolerance of lower risk failures than exists under current EU funding regimes would help to stimulate greater innovation, as would reducing the administrative burden for SME participation in funded research.
b. Inclusion: A key potential barrier to the effective development of innovative services is the dominance of an established ecosystem of players in the ‘Smart City’ domain. To ensure that public service innovation truly creates impact for citizens across Europe, H2020 must move beyond the focus on cities by including rural or suburban administrations where possible.
c. Trickle Down: Another potential barrier is the unwillingness of national policymakers to adopt cross-border services at an early stage, delaying trickle down to local government. To counteract this challenge, H2020 might have a track in which national governments conduct research and piloting into the adoption of these open services into their national policy framework.