European public sector innovation
Evi Christofilopoulou
European public sector innovation

Public sector innovation is crucial at a time where the European economy is still fragile and public finances are under pressure. An expert group set up by the European Commission and chaired by MindLab’s Christian Bason recommends massive investments to increase European innovation capacity. This should be done via comprehensive training of public managers, a new network for public problem solving and ambitious digital initiatives.

Sharing knowledge and expertise, exchanging innovative solutions and practice is a win-win and a European challenge.

Evi Christofilopoulou, Deputy Minister of Administrative Reform and eGovernance (Greece)


From January through to December 2013, MindLab’s Christian Bason was chairman of a high-level expert group set up by the EU Commissioner for Research and Innovation, Máire Geoghegan-Quinn. The group’s purpose was to analyse the barriers that hamper the EU and the Member State’s work in public innovation, and on that basis submit proposals on how to strengthen innovative thinking in the EU as well as in the member states.

The expert group published its report in December 2013 at a conference hosted by the Lisbon Council in Brussels. While at present the innovative development in the EU often takes the form of uncoordinated initiatives, the report points out that there should instead be far more deliberate and strategic initiatives that recognise and meet the challenges faced by the Member States. The group therefore proposes three cross-cutting and nine specific recommendations as to how such deliberate and systematic efforts could be undertaken.

This very timely report offers excellent insights into key issues of today’s global debate on innovation in the public sector: inspire evidence building; connect public sector innovators; identify the levers of public sector innovation.

Rolf Alter, Director for Public Governance and Territorial Development, (OECD)



In order to identify new policy initiatives in support of innovation in the public sector, the expert group found it necessary to rethink the way usual EU expert-led development processes are run. The group therefore conducted several activities that went beyond the EU Commission’s normal requirements for the task.

The Lisbon Council think tank, for example, hosted a development seminar where invited experts, politicians and staff from the EU Commission’s various departments discussed the challenges and opportunities for increased public innovation. This led to increased understanding and support for the work within the relevant parts of the EU system, as well as a number of first proposals for new solutions.

The expert group also used design tools such as “personas” to flesh out the target groups, as well as various brainstorming, prioritisation and conceptual tools for idea development and qualification.

In addition, the group established an online idea bank, through which more than 140 ideas were received from external stakeholders and experts. This crowd-sourcing of ideas led to a significant expansion of the proposals the group had to work with, and also enabled further qualification and discussion of the many ideas via a web platform.

A prototype workshop with managers and development staff from MindLab’s circle of owners was held in Copenhagen, where the expert group tested their best ideas directly with Danish officials. The idea was to obtain early input that could confirm whether the group was on the right track with the ideas. At the workshop some ideas were deemed less attractive, for example the idea of a new European best practice catalogue, while others got more wind in their sails, for example the idea of a pan-European network to facilitate joint online and virtual problem solving for public employees working on identical challenges.


– 40 experts, politicians and representatives of the European Commission
– External stakeholders and experts with contributions to the online idea bank.


The Ministry of Employment
The Ministry of Business and Growth
The Ministry of Science, Innovation and Higher Education
The Ministry of Finance (The Digitization Agency)


The Group found four major groups of barriers to enhanced public sector innovation:
1. Weak enabling factors or unfavourable framework conditions
2. Lack of leadership at all levels
3. Limited knowledge and application of innovation processes and methods
4. Insufficiently precise and systematic use of measurement and data.

To address these barriers the expert group indicated four basic principles that should be at the heart of the future public sector:

1. Co-design and co-creation of innovative solutions with other Member States, other parts of government, businesses, the third sector and citizens.
2. Adopting new and collaborative service delivery models across public, private and non-governmental actors, both within and across national borders.
3. Embracing creative disruption from technology, the pervasive use of social media, mobility, big data, cloud computing packaged in new digital government offerings.
4. Adopting an attitude of experimentation and entrepreneurship. Government itself needs to become bolder and more entrepreneurial.

The many barriers and principles resulted in three cross-cutting and nine specific recommendations that constitute a new architecture for innovation in the European public sector. The recommendations, which at full implementation will involve investments of millions, appears in detail in the group’s report.

Methods used


Brain writing is an exercise where workshop participants describe ideas in silence and then build on each other's ideas. This method requires that participants have a common understanding of the project and the challenges identified in the project. It is not allowed to say or write anything bad about each other's ideas.


Workshop facilitation is used when you need to involve a lot of people in the project. It may be that you need ideas, inputs, knowledge etc. of a particular group of people. By facilitating a workshop you ensure that you obtain the necessary knowledge.