The Innovation Compass/Recorder helps to better understand enabling factors for public sector innovation and to support governments in identifying fields for improvement and in sharing good practice across institutions and borders. The Innovation Compass builds on the experience from the Scandinavian region, based on statistical surveys and reflective self-assessment. It was developed by a cross-sector network in Germany, Austria and Switzerland.
Governments across the globe are confronted with increasingly complex interconnected and sometimes seemingly unsolvable issues. New questions have to be asked and new answers have to be found for the environmental, social and economic challenges of our times. However, there is no one good or right solution to these so-called “wicked problems”. Rather, these are associated with transformations that require fundamental changes in our social order and the related principles according to which decisions are made and structured.
Germany, Austria and Switzerland have committed themselves to the goals of evidence-based, impact-oriented and forward-looking government and administrative action. So far, important framework conditions have been created in order to achieve these goals (e.g., outcome orientation, e-government, Open Government Partnerships, etc.). A central challenge is to implement the concepts developed so far on a broad basis and to promote the development of new processes and structures in a professional, modern and transdisciplinary manner.
This requires institutions to open up and provide their employees with appropriate framework conditions, resources and tools in order to:
• identify challenges,
• use new (digital) processes/tools ethically correct to address these challenges,
• build easily accessible and reliable data and services,
• promote sustainable social developments focused on the common good,
• serve citizens and enable them to have a good life,
• be an attractive employer for skilled workers, and
• promote a culture of cooperation across public organizations and with civil society in order to address complex problems.
Innovations in the public sector play a decisive role when new and significantly improved processes, methods, products and services are introduced into existing administrative activities, workplace organization or external relations. To make relevant framework conditions and innovation itself more visible and effective, the Innovation Compass structures information that is based on the experiences of many people and creates a trend-setting overview. It becomes easier to understand how innovations arise in the public sector and what is needed in the future to support and develop these innovation processes in a meaningful, outcome-oriented way.
The tool is based on a combination of statistical surveys (70%) and reflective self-assessment for the identification of needs and possibilities (30%). The statistical results of the survey provide relevant evidence and support the introduction of new working methods or principles in German-speaking countries, all while ensuring international comparability of public innovation. The identification and development of new competencies and capabilities are supported by self-assessment and surveys of current and prospective needs.
The objective of the Innovation Compass is to gain a comprehensive picture of the innovative strength of the public administration across all levels of government in Germany, Austria and Switzerland on a yearly basis and to support the adaption and development of new instruments designed to support civil servants and strengthen the culture of innovation across the public sector. The Innovation Compass is not about setting up an innovation ranking with winners and losers, but rather establishing an interface for the professional development of public innovation.
In the long term, the regular surveys are intended to contribute to the effectiveness and quality of the innovative strength of the public sector, in which in-depth knowledge of the value of innovations and their effects is systematically collected and shown in an understandable manner. Existing surveys complement the empirical basis of the project. The aim is to show how political goals can be achieved, efficiency increased, higher quality achieved, democracy strengthened and the innovative capacity of public organizations increased.
What Makes Your Project Innovative?
The Innovation Compass/Recorder offers a two-fold value. On one hand, the tool provides an initial long-cycle basis of statistics and quantitative insights about public servants and the institutions they belong to. Similarly, it systematically approaches their institutional and personal decision-making processes by capturing qualitative evidence from a self-reflection process. On the other hand, it creates evidence on the existing (or lack of) participatory infrastructures within the public administration, as well as the adoption of digital tools and agile methods to tackle the bureaucratic status-quo. All-in-all, the Innovation Compass/Recorder provides an ideal approach to learning cycles and the inherent culture that is ultimately translated into operations and policies across Germany, Austria and Switzerland.
What is the current status of your innovation?
Building on the experience from the Scandinavian region, the network has designed a prototype in exchange with the National Centre for Public Sector Innovation (COI), which was first tested in 2019 with partners from various regional authorities. The Innovation Compass/Recorder was then developed and rolled out in 2020. Over 500 individuals form Germany, Austria and Switzerland responded to this call.
In the long term, the regular surveys are intended to contribute to the effectiveness and quality of the innovative strength of the public sector, in which in-depth knowledge of the value of innovations and their effects is systematically collected and shown in an understandable manner. Therefore the project partners are currently in the process of further developing and adapting the survey and the presentation of results based on the experience and feedback of the prototypes.
Collaborations & Partnerships
The Innovation Compass/Recorder is being developed by a European network of experts from the public sector, academia and civil society in collaboration with the Danish National Centre for Public Sector Innovation (COI). The project was initiated by Politics for Tomorrow (Germany), the competence center for public IT (Fraunhofer FOKUS, Germany), the University of Speyer (WITI, Germany), the Austrian Federal Ministry for Civil Service (GovLabAustria) and the State laboratory of Switzerland.
Users, Stakeholders & Beneficiaries
The objective of the Innovation Compass/Recorder is to gain a comprehensive picture of the innovative strength of the public administration in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. It will contribute to a more inclusive, impact-oriented and forward-looking government and administrative action by supporting governments in the bottom-up identification of good practices as well as fields for improvement across institutions and borders.
Results, Outcomes & Impacts
Since May 2020, the network has been inviting civil servants from Germany, Austria and Switzerland to share their observations and thoughts on work in and with the administration during the COVID-19 pandemic. The aim is to bundle knowledge about the present and ideas about the future of the public sector, evaluate them and translate them into effective measures. Because these major challenges also have a political dimension, qualitative insights can also provide impetus for political decision makers in order to better understand how public administrations can develop in a people- and value-centred manner.
So far, over 500 public civil servants have anonymously reflected on their experiences with regard to resilience, agility and the dynamics of change in public administration using the Innovation Compass/Recorder. Interim results were presented at various events and published online at www.innovationskompass.net.
Challenges and Failures
The project still relies on the dedication and personal resources from the different partners. Even though the Innovation Compass/Recorder is supported by institutions from Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, no official budget lines have been provided. Research grants could be another source to finance the project, however, grant processes themselves are very resource intensive and might not be successful. Therefore financing the project is still the biggest challenge.
In addition, the COVID-19 pandemic was at first a big challenge for the project. However, thanks to an agile approach the team could easily adapt the prototype to address specific needs and generate strong and valuable evidence on challenges, needs and solutions during the crisis.
Conditions for Success
The strong personal commitment from the core team was a crucial factor in the whole process since the project was not financed by any specific budget line. Using an agile project management approach allowed the team not only to build on new partnerships and windows of opportunity along the way, such as the collaboration with the Scandinavian countries (COI Innovation Barometer), but also to react to the COVID-19 crisis by adapting its tool to new needs and providing new relevant evidence to decision makers.
The Innovation Compass is still under development. However, the process itself and the prototypes developed provided many important insights on how to observe and measure the innovation capabilities of the public sector. These results are feeding directly into the design of a new set of indicators on public sector innovation, as part of Austria’s federal performance management framework as well as into other projects and discussions in Germany and Switzerland and across OECD member countries (i.e. OECD Government After Shock). Furthermore, evidence generated from the prototypes during the COVID-19 crisis is being used in new projects focusing on the transformation of the public sector (i.e. Living Lab: Future of Work - Hybrid work in the Austrian public sector).
Key lessons learned included:
- a strong, committed, and agile team is able to achieve a lot with very few resources
- it is crucial to be aware of changing scenarios and to make use of windows of opportunity to thrive even during a global crisis.
- Although flexibility is key, clear guidance and support from senior leadership, combined with clearly assigned human and financial resources, are crucial in order to scale up a project and bring it to the next level.