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Promotes greater innovation in the public sector

The Research Council of Norway is expanding its efforts to promote innovation in the public sector. A new policy in this area has been drawn up.The objective is to stimulate the public sector to invest in and use research that produces new and better solutions.

“The concept of ‘innovation in the public sector’ entails new linkages between a variety of current paths in Norwegian knowledge production with experience from industrial and technological development and emerging social entrepreneurship,” says Arvid Hallén, Director General of the Research Council.

He believes that research can help to create a more systematic framework for innovation processes and that the authorities have a lot to learn from the steps that have been taken to link research and innovation in trade and industry.

 

Photo: Sverre C. Jarild


Research can help to create a more systematic framework for innovation processes, according to Arvid Hallen, Director General of the Research Counsil. (Photo: Sverre C. Jaild)

 Need and potential

“The most important contribution of research is to uncover the need for, and focus activities on the potential of, continued renewal and value creation. Research can advance innovation as well as generate knowledge that ensures quality in the development of services and that lays the foundation for innovative procurement in the public sector.”

Mr Hallén emphasises that public agencies and enterprises today are already conducting activities that can be defined as innovation. “By the same token, we know that there will be even greater demand for flexibility and adaptations in the services in the future.”

Technological development raises expectations

Jesper Simonsen, Executive Director of the Division for Society and Health at the Research Council, notes that we are witnessing a rapid development of technology. “This opens up completely new vistas, and along with this also comes an increase in the general public’s expectations of the central government and municipalities, the health services, the schools, transportation and other infrastructure. The public sector has no other choice than to try to keep pace,” he says.

In particular, he mentions the need within the municipal sector to stimulate innovation, weigh the relationship between local solutions and regional and national standards, and find a way to divide tasks between the public sector, trade and industry, civil society and the individual.

“There is no shortage of challenges facing an increasingly complex, vulnerable society,” says Mr Simonsen. “For example, in response to the climate crisis, we must secure critical infrastructure better and construct more energy-efficient buildings. In addition, the dramatic changes in population and settlement patterns mean that we must place greater demands for flexibility and adaptation on the public services.”

Simonsen

Greater value creation is a crucial driver in trade and industry, but it is not relevant in the public sector, Jesper Simonsen, Executive Director of the Division for Society and Health at the Research Council.


Weak incentives

Mr Simonsen is concerned that the reward systems for innovation are too weak in the public sector.

“Greater value creation is a crucial driver in trade and industry, but it is not relevant in the public sector. Today there is no payback for improving efficiency. This creates a culture that is different from trade and industry. The fear of making a mistake is so great that mechanisms to reduce risk are needed. Too much control and reporting and unsuccessful systems of management-by-objectives may also prevent value creation.”

“At the same time, many exciting individual experiments and pilot projects are being carried out, but there is less success with disseminating experiences and developing new ways of doing things at a level where they can be used on a large scale,” says Mr Simonsen.

The new policy states that the link between research and innovation is too weak in many areas of the public sector. Research can provide much more in the way of systematic understanding of problems, acquisition of knowledge, and documentation of change and development processes. There is a need for a more systematic overview of the innovation activity currently being conducted as well as for information about what is needed to disseminate and implement the results in a more effective manner.

Will be refined

The policy has been approved by the Executive Board of the Research Council and addresses the Council’s strategic efforts to promote innovation in the public sector.

“The document was developed following extensive dialogue with other interested parties,” say Mr Hallén. “However, we still do not know which instruments are needed to promote such processes or what cooperation with other interested parties should consist of. The policy will be refined as we gain more experience over time.”

The basic line of thinking underlying the document is to strengthen the knowledge flow within the triangle of research, practice and education. “We have strong knowledge communities in the areas of health and social care as well as world-class companies and research groups that conduct basic research in technology, but the link between them is not adequate. In addition, we have research-based education, but we need more practice-based research,” concludes Director General Hallén.

 

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