With a citizen-centric approach and a strong focus on co-creation, SIMPLEX is a simplification and modernization program focused on improving public service efficiency and designed to facilitate the citizens and businesses everyday life, and their interaction with the public administration.
Launched in 2006, it had several editions since then and resulted in the implementation of hundreds of initiatives that cut red tape, reduced context costs and used ICT to deliver better public services.
In SIMPLEX, the needs of the public services users are the key criterion to identify priority areas for action and the most appropriate simplification measures. The program is highly participative, with a strong focus on co-creation and the participation of different stakeholders in the process of defining the initiatives to be implemented by the government agencies.
First launched in 2006 and with several editions since then, SIMPLEX is the central policy program in Portugal to boost the public services reform and facilitate the relationship between the citizens and the enterprises with the public administration. It combines in a single governmental program the objectives of better regulation; reduction of the administrative burden; interoperability; forms and procedures dematerialization; easy access to public services; cutting red tape; and the promotion of e-Government. It, therefore, enables a more efficient public administration and a better service delivery to the citizens and the entrepreneurs.
It covers all the governmental areas, from defense to agriculture, to foreign affairs or education, among all the others. In fact, some of the initiatives across more than one area and ministry, making the cooperation and coordination between different entities a prerogative of the program, which has a strong silo breaking focus.
The 1st edition of the program was in 2006, and between 2006 and 2011, more than 1.000 measures of administrative and legislative simplification and e-Government were successfully implemented across the all Portuguese public administration. The program then had a consolidation phase and, ten years later, in 2016, it was back and renamed SIMPLEX+. It retained its original feature of a single national program of a cross-cutting nature, covering all the domains where the state is actively present, but it addresses new challenges.
To identify the initiatives that make up the program, there were several meetings and design thinking sessions engaging different stakeholders all across the country, during what was called the SIMPLEX Tour. In these meetings, 2016, 2017 and 2018 SIMPLEX+ editions gathered the ideas of 2.634 citizens and entrepreneurs. Also, 283 public servants participated in the SIMPLEX JAM meetings, also organized across the country with the goal of collecting ideas for the initiatives. Another relevant form of participation was the SIMPLEX website, which works as an open channel for communication and submission of suggestions and ideas through the SIMPLEX+ BOOK, through which AMA received 802 proposals of projects to include in the program.
But the website is not only an instrument of engagement, but it’s also an instrument for transparency, publicizing SIMPLEX many activities and projects, their implementation stage and timelines, as well as the entities involved since initiatives, are assigned to individual public entities for implementation, depending on their area of action.
The SIMPLEX program was also an opportunity to stimulate innovation and to invite innovators to look at the central administration. With that in mind, as part of the SIMPLEX+ program, the 'Startup SIMPLEX' competition was launched in 2016, inviting Startups to present their ideas for services and products that would improve the Portuguese public administration. There were 196 projects submitted and the three winners had their ideas embedded in the SIMPLEX+ 2016, as one of the 255 measures of that year’s edition.
Some of the most emblematic initiatives that happened under different SIMPLEX editions are: the “Born a Citizen”, that enables birth registration at the maternity unities or hospitals (2007); the “Automatic Tax Declaration”, which made tax returns completely digital and automatic (2017); the “I lost my wallet” counter, a one-stop counter that helps the citizen renew most of its documents in case his wallet is lost or stolen (2004); “On the Spot Firm”, that allows registering a company in less than one hour (2006); the “Electronic Vaccination Bulletin”, which makes available online the information about vaccination, providing personal notifications about coming dates (2018); etc.
With most of the initiatives implemented, the way the program is designed and executed is a successful and replicable model. The execution rate for the SIMPLEX 2016 is 89%, for the 2017 edition is 80% and for 2018 is already 83%. Considering that 154 of the SIMPLEX 2018 initiatives are to be finished until the end of 2019, and 15 are to be completed until the end of 2020, the execution rate of this edition is considered to be on track.
The responsibility for the program lies with the Minister of the Presidency and of Administrative Modernisation, with direct support from the Prime Minister. The Secretary of State Assistant and of Administrative Modernisation is in charge of coordinating and monitoring the program, with the technical support of the Administrative Modernization Agency (AMA).
What Makes Your Project Innovative?
It’s a co-created program which instead of a top-down approach, has a bottom-up process intended to implement initiatives that really respond to the stakeholders' needs. Participation is promoted through several actions, such as the SIMPLEX Tour, which had a team of specialists crossing the country and organizing open events to collect ideas from the citizens and the entrepreneurs.
Another example was the SIMPLEX Jam, which consisted of several participatory meetings and design thinking sessions to gather the public servant’s ideas for new services, but also to improve existing services.
The co-creation effort is also supported by the SIMPLEX + Book, website and social networks that are open and permanent communication channels, where anyone can submit ideas or suggestions.
Another innovative feature is the fact that SIMPLEX covers all the governmental areas, putting different ministries and entities working together and coordinating their efforts to provide better services.
What is the current status of your innovation?
SIMPLEX has had several editions since 2006. Some of the initiatives that comprised the program are already finished, others are being implemented at the moment. It’s a well-known brand in Portugal for years, recognized for the way it identifies priority areas and modernizes and de-bureaucratizes procedures.
The fact that it had already several editions, allowed for some evaluations to be made. There was a study hired to Nova University, based on a generalization of the Standard Cost Model, which did an evaluation of 13 of the SIMPLEX+ 2016 edition measures. And, there’s an evaluation that is being conducted at the moment by Ernst & Young, which was hired by the European Commission, in coordination with the Portuguese government, to evaluate 40 SIMPLEX+ initiatives
Portugal has also been sharing this experience with other countries, helping them develop their own simplification programs, so SIMPLEX is also in the phase of the diffusing lesson.
Collaborations & Partnerships
The majority of the initiatives of the program were brought to the table by the citizens, civil servants, and entrepreneurs.
After the public consultation phase, the proposal evaluation and the program development, there is a collaborative network involving all the Ministries. Such network of SIMPLEX focal points is made up of representatives from all the Ministries and monitors the implementation of the initiatives.
Users, Stakeholders & Beneficiaries
The main SIMPLEX beneficiaries are the citizens and the entrepreneurs that have their daily lives and interactions with the public administration facilitated by all the initiatives comprised in the program.
But not only, but the public administration itself is also one of the main beneficiaries of the program, since it simplifies procedures and regulations, enabling better allocation of human and financial resources and therefore promoting efficiency.
Results, Outcomes & Impacts
Besides the stakeholder feedback, in 2017, Nova University evaluated 13 of the 255 measures of SIMPLEX+ 2016. Based on a generalization of the Standard Cost Model, it concluded that these 13 measures had: an estimated potential saving of EUR 623,992 million related to the reduction of the administrative costs; companies saved EUR 187,236 million on the filling of forms, and EUR 59,963 million in getting familiar with the regulations; the added value to the economy of EUR 1.094 million; and the public administration saved 490.000 hours of work.
There’s also a current evaluation being conducted by Ernst & Young, ordered by the European Commission, in coordination with the Portuguese government, to evaluate 40 measures.
Besides, the SIMPLEX focal point network has progress reviews every 2 weeks, made on a specific online platform. The Coordinating Entity also prepares progress reports and disseminates the results, which helps to justify the good execution rates.
Challenges and Failures
In each edition, the main challenge is to reach as many stakeholders as possible and to collect and process as many contributions as possible in order to accurately identify the most effective cost/benefit measures to be implemented.
To address this, the hearings and the public sessions had to be very well organized and publicized. And to give strength to these sessions, the political representatives (such as the Secretary of State, the Minister of the Presidency and Administrative Modernization, and even the Prime-minister, took part in some of these meetings, showing that SIMPLEX is a program with strong political support.
Another main challenge was the implementation of measures that needed strong coordination and interoperability between different entities and ministries. The existence of a track record of success regarding execution and results of SIMPLEX, a network of focal points and strong political support from the Prime-Minister helped to overcome these constraints.
Conditions for Success
In a national program that crosses all the governmental areas such as this, top political support is essential to get the financial and the human resources needed and to push the co-ordination between different entities.
SIMPLEX is regarded as a policy-setting program, that may drive simplification and modernization within the public administration.
Also, the existence of key enablers, such as interoperability (eg. the Portuguese Interoperability Platform, iAP), digital identification and infrastructures of all kind, which are essential for cross-sectorial initiatives to work.
But this co-ordination is also only possible if all the stakeholders are engaged since the beginning, and if there are a proper governance structure and accountability mechanisms. These latter are primordial to keep track of the several initiatives and to make sure that the calendar of the program is on time.
The challenges in de-bureaucratize, simplify and modernize the public administration are shared by governments worldwide, so the way SIMPLEX addresses these problems can also be replicable in many other countries. The SIMPLEX lifecycle is a simple one to replicate: public consultation; proposal evaluation; program development and implementation; and evaluation.
Since its first edition in 2006, several delegations from different countries visited Portugal to know more about the program and study its design and implementation. This methodology focused on co-creation and the engagement of several stakeholders can be used on programs with a national and cross-sector focus, such as the SIMPLEX, but also in smaller programs, or more focused on a specific governmental area or geographic region.
A bottom-up approach, in which the stakeholders are asked to propose initiatives and ideas on how to simplify procedures and modernize the public administration, is a good way of getting some out of the box thinking, and meet the citizens and entrepreneur’s real needs and expectations.
To listen to the public servants is also of great value. They’re also citizens, but they’re the ones providing the services and listening to the complaints of the service users. They know the reality and the challenges that the public administration faces, so they can be a very good source of ideas.
Another important SIMPLEX feature is the communication and marketing strategy. For a program of this nature, communication is considered fundamental to reach all relevant targets, whether by using social media, or more traditional forms of communications in the radio, television, etc. The launch of the annual SIMPLEX program, for instance, is an event cover by the media, and specific merchandising is also produced to raise awareness of the program initiatives.
The 2018 SIMPLEX+ edition was presented to the citizens by life events (birth, health, education, work, family, etc.), instead of governmental areas, so that was also important for the people to realize the true impact the initiatives have in their daily lives. In fact, a famous Portuguese magician was hired to feature in several videos based on this approach, which were presented on TV and were published on Youtube and on the SIMPLEX+ website.
Additionally, the political support and the proper governance and accountability mechanisms are fundamental for its success. The implementation timeline and budget is the responsibility of each entity in charge of the initiative, in coordination with AMA, but the existence of a focal points network, with representatives of all the ministries that regularly meets, is essential to co-ordinate initiatives and to put the different entities working together.