UN Economic Commission For Europe Tackles Innovation In The Public Sector 16/10/2013 by Alessandro Marongiu for Intellectual Property Watch Leave a Comment Share this Story:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Google+ (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window) IP-Watch is a non-profit independent news service and depends on subscriptions. To access all of our content, please subscribe here. You may also offer additional support with your subscription, or donate. Innovation experts participating in a two-day seminar at the United Nations in Geneva last week highlighted the complexities as well as the potential benefits linked to the promotion of innovative practices in public administrations at the national, regional and local levels. The event, entitled “Innovation in the Public Sector,” took place on 10-11 October as part of the sixth session of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe Team of Specialists on Innovation and Competitiveness Policies (UNECE TOS-ICP), an intergovernmental group promoting knowledge sharing, network-building and the identification of good practices leading to the formulation of better innovation policies. Private and Public Innovators: Similar but Different. Participants at the meeting clarified the main differences between private and public innovation actors. Dennis Leyden, professor at the University of North Carolina-Greensboro, argued that private entrepreneurs act “in a world of uncertainty” and measure the success of their innovations through monetary rewards achieved in the marketplace. Although public sector entrepreneurs are equally willing to bear the risk associated with uncertainty, Leyden explained that they face a different environment compared to innovators in the private sector. “The institutional environment is different. Constitutional, legal and political constraints may limit access to resources and [public innovators’] ability to act,” he said. In addition, the rewards of innovation “are often much more immediate in the private sector,” while “ethical considerations and career enhancement are more important for public entrepreneurs,” he said. For these reasons, Leyden argued that policies directed at prompting innovation in the public sector should aim at facilitating the creation of ideas by enhancing the public-private entrepreneurial knowledge network. More importantly, specific policies should create the possibility to innovate by allocating resources and providing the authority to act, he concluded. Public Innovation: Issues and Challenges The increasing demand for a higher quality of public services is pushing national and local administrations to seek innovative solutions, many speakers said. According to Tomasz Jerzyniak of the European Commission’s Directorate General of Enterprise and Industry and Coordinator of the European Public Sector Innovation Scoreboard, additional reasons for public sector innovation come from new societal challenges, such as aging population, migrations and environmental degradation, as well as from austerity measures that require provision of more and better services with fewer resources. The benefits deriving from a more innovative public sector might have a positive impact on the economy as a whole. For example, in the European Union, “government expenditures account for 45 percent of the GDP, the public sector represents 20 percent of total employment and 19 percent of the GDP regards public procurement. That’s why it matters,” Jerzyniak said. Jerzyniak presented the key results of the first European Public Sector Innovation Scoreboard, highlighting the positive effects of innovation in public administration on: user access to information, improved user satisfaction and faster delivery of services for business and citizens. However, significant barriers, particularly the lack of management support, still hamper public sector’s efficiency, he said. In addition, “the public sector does not exploit sufficiently procurement to drive innovation,” Jerzyniak concluded. Several speakers stressed the importance of a strong high-level political backing of innovation in the public sector. “It is important to have people in the government to drive change and to have the right mandate to receive adequate resources,” said Stela Mocan, executive director of the Moldovan eGovernment Center. Despite the importance of political support, top-down approaches are not sufficient to ensure a successful public innovation environment, speakers said. Several speakers underlined the need to involve the civil society to set new collaborative models. “The purpose of innovation is to provide greater access to services, increase their quality and respond to the needs of citizens,” said Adriana Alberti, senior manager at the UN Department for Economic and Social Affairs, while calling for a “holistic” and “citizen-centric” approach to public innovation. Alberti noted a paradigm shift from a hierarchical approach to collaborative and innovative governance. “Citizens need to participate in designing, delivering and monitoring public services. Once citizens are involved, services are more effective,” she concluded. Several speakers suggested the adoption of decentralised models to foster citizen participation in innovative practices. Alexander Heichlinger, manager of the European Public Sector Award, underlined that the “true involvement of users is mostly at the local level.” Peter Gruenenfelder, president of the Swiss State Chancellors Association, suggested that the Swiss federalist model has positive effects in allowing experimentation and competition as well as at ensuring close contact between implementing agents and customers. However, some participants argued that decentralised models may result in high coordination costs and incoherent policies. Challenges emerge also with regard to public sector’s innovation definition and measurement. “The definition of innovation is already broad and there is a tendency to broaden it even more to include social innovation,” making the identification of innovators more problematic, said Igor Yegorov of the Ukraine National Academy of Sciences. Yegorov also argued that the boundaries between public and private sectors are often “blurred”, particularly in the domain of research and development. Additional issues regard the lack of data on many public sector innovation activities, and the existing data are often not comparable across countries and over time. Furthermore, there are considerable differences in public innovation performances at the national, regional and local levels. In presenting the outcomes of a project on “Technology adoption and innovation in public services” in 15 EU members, Antonello Zanfei, professor at Urbino University (Italy), highlighted a broad “heterogeneity in public e-services across countries, across service categories and a greater heterogeneity at the city level.” For this reason, Zanfei called for “public policies fine tuned according to regions and cities.” In conclusion, several speakers highlighted the possibility of the public sector to operate as a platform to facilitate the emergence of new forms of partnership, bringing together different actors and translating into policies those experiences that are seen as successful. 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