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Created by the Public Governance Directorate

This website was created by the OECD Observatory of Public Sector Innovation (OPSI), part of the OECD Public Governance Directorate (GOV).

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  • Before You Begin
  • Organisation Details
  • Innovation Summary
  • Innovation Description
  • Innovation Development
  • Innovation Reflections
  • Materials
  • Questionnaire Feedback & Miscellaneous
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Innovative Open Government Case Studies


Before You Begin

Before continuing with your submission, you may wish to:

During the Submission Process

Once you begin the submission process, you’ll be asked to enter or review:

  • Organisation Details
  • Detailed Description of the Open Government Innovation
  • Project Results and Reflections
  • Supporting Materials (e.g., files, photos, videos) (optional)
  • Feedback About the Submission Process
Please remember to save your submission periodically as you  progress through the submission process.   

Questions indicated by * are required for FINAL SUBMISSION. However, you may skip required questions and come back to them later.

Submitted innovations will be reviewed by the OECD Open Government team. The team may contact the case owner to propose edits to the submission. Accepted case studies will be published on the Open Government case study platform.

Should you encounter any technical problems, please contact [email protected]. If possible, please provide a screen shot of the problem.

Example of Innovation Overview

To respond effectively and efficiently to the challenges of the 21st century, the public service must explore new and more agile models of workforce mobilisation and foster and use innovative skills and attributes. This requires the restructuring of government workforces to meet the changing needs of citizens in complex environments.

It is in this context that the Government of Canada piloted a new workforce model, to match people with work, called the ‘Free Agents’ programme. Initially, the pilot was created by and launched in a single department, Natural Resources Canada (NRCan). Now, it is no longer a departmentally-bound pilot, but a program that lives in two departments (NRCan and Transport Canada) with free agents coming from 3 provinces (Ontario, British Columbia, and Quebec).

In this model, existing Canadian public servants sing up to become Free Agents, mobile public servants in the Canadian public service who can select work that matches their skills and interests.

The objectives of the pilot of this new workforce model were three-fold:

1) Demonstrate the benefits of the cloud-based free agency model for human resources

2) Support, develop, and retain talented public servants

3) Increase the capacity of the Public Service to innovate and solve problems

To become a Free Agent, applicants undergo a selection process which  focuses on personality and character attributes seen in successful innovators and problem-solvers, rather than purely on the basis of having done similar work before. Once selected, Free Agents leave their previous role behind but still, administratively, belong to a ‘home’ department.

They are then free to select to work with existing teams or existing projects from across the public service that would benefit from their input.  They have the freedom to select short-term work or projects that match their skills and interests, allowing them to make a meaningful contribution.

Managers who need innovative, talented people are able to resource projects with greater speed and agility, and rapidly deploy diverse skill sets to meet shorter project timelines. They can do this because this model bypasses the government’s old hiring model which was centred on indeterminate hiring with a temporary workforce complement, so that they are better positioned to deliver high quality policy, program, and service results to meet current and future needs.

Ultimately, the pilot tested whether the innovation attributes (for which people were selected) are valuable for project-based work and whether it will have an impact on problem solving and innovation in the Public Service. The pilot also provided the Government with a way of retaining and continually engaging innovative talent who may otherwise leave the public service, through lack of opportunity, to leverage their skills and explore their interests and passions.

The pilot was designed to recover the costs associated with managing the program. All agreements to engage these innovative people for a project recovered their full salary, plus an additional 15% fee to cover program operating costs. This 15% service fee covers the salary of the Talent Manager overseeing the pilot, training and development for the Free Agents, down time of Free Agents between assignments (should there be any between short term projects), and various IT and administrative costs.

In essence, the pilot was successful in giving innovative public servants the new opportunities to apply existing skills, opportunities to develop new skills, allow greater access to the Government of Canada innovation community, and result in a greater likelihood of remaining in the Public Service. Managers have also benefited significantly from the model. Based on the results from a survey of hiring managers, the speed and convenience of hiring a Free Agent represent the greatest value provided by the program. In addition, managers have noted the positive influence these workers have had on their team’s capacity to deliver the outcomes the specific project needed at the time and that those with these kinds of skills, working in this kind of way, have had a positive influence on the existing team’s dynamic.

What makes your project innovative sample

The Free Agent model is an innovation in human resourcing because:

1) It is agile and rapid, providing talent and skills for project-based work in a way that departs from the previous permanent hiring workforce model. The speed and convenience of the model provides a unique opportunity for managers to rapidly staff their projects with little risk.

2) It involves two-way choice, giving Free Agents freedom to select interesting projects that they find meaningful, it’s not just about rapid human resourcing

3) It emphasises leadership attributes not just core skills, selecting candidates who display attributes often seen in successful innovators and problem solvers.

Innovation status sample

As of this date of submission in 2017, this project has already completed its first pilot. We are now at the stage of formative evaluation of the pilot. This evaluation uses a mixed methods approach, compiling data from quantitative surveys, qualitative narratives, and stakeholder interviews.

Further, this pilot has sparked additional work. Now, we are also developing a profile of skills and competencies that are useful for public sector innovation. Once developed, this profile will provide the framework for the Free Agents to pursue training and learning opportunities so that Free Agents’ professional development will continue to evolve.

Collaboration and partnerships description sample

Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) created and launched the program. An interdepartmental model will require a revised governance model to ensure consistency across multiple departments. The pilot will establish a joint advisory body with equal representation from all partner departments; future partners will be required to participate.

Users, stakeholders and beneficiaries sample

Free Agents benefit by working on projects which interest them and use their skills. They report greater job satisfaction and enjoyment as compared to the rest of the Public Service.

Managers who hire Free Agents report satisfaction based on the speed and convenience of the hiring process and the value they provide to their projects.

Results, outcomes and impact sample

We conducted a qualitative survey. For managers, overall satisfaction with the Free Agent pilot was 90%, 84% said they would hire a Free Agent again and 80% indicated that Free Agents displayed the attributes for which they were screened during the application process. In general, managers appreciated the convenience of this staffing option and their positive influence on the team and its capacity.

Free Agents reported a higher level of job satisfaction, greater support for proposing new ideas, and greater encouragement to be innovative or to take initiative in their work. The vast majority of Free Agents report new opportunities to apply existing skills, opportunities to develop new skills, greater access to the GoC innovation community, and a higher likelihood of remaining in the Public Service since joining the program.

Challenges sample

This pilot faced challenges relating to diversity and workplace happiness that the program will address in the future. Though still higher than the general Public Service, Free Agents reported relatively lower levels of agreement with questions of diversity, balancing work and personal life, and mental health. Data from the monthly survey and the journals employees kept showed that they felt pressure to perform at a consistently high level and ensure there is no downtime between their assignments. In response, Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) organized two facilitated, half-day workshops to address this. In the future, the program will attend to issues of diversity, inclusion, and workplace wellness and mental health as this way of working has unique stressors.

Conditions for success sample

Support from senior management to experiment with this model was essential. As the pilot has grown that has become less important since we have demonstrated significant results. Co-creating with the stakeholders as we iterate the model has been useful.

Replication sample

This solution could be replicated by other countries. It is a workforce model that is usable for a variety of projects, rather than a contextually, specific project per se.

Factors that would condition replication would include:

– A need to identify, engage and retain innovative staff

– A plethora of short term projects which require innovation thinking/skills

– A culture which values and permits workers’ choice, as this is about allowing people to select projects based on their interests in addition to their attributes and innovation skills (selection of Free Agents is not on the basis of core skills and their deployment is not simply about meeting a need for rapid resourcing)

– Provincial governments in Canada have approached us and are considering adopting our model. Other countries such as Australia and New Zealand have also looked at this model and have worked with us to understand the benefits and challenges.

Lessons learned sample

The pilot gave us insight into peoples’ preferences in working this way that will help us iterate and engage people into the future.

In the first year of the pilot, the program staffed 42 projects in 20 departments. The projects spanned a broad range of business lines including policy development, communications, science research, and computer programming. Projects ranged between 2 to 12 months in length; however, the majority (76%) were between 6 and 12 months. In their monthly journals and check-ins, the Free Agents indicated on various occasions that they generally preferred to commit to projects for shorter durations (such as 6 months) and extend as needed rather than commit for longer durations (such as 12 months) and pursue early termination.

Short explanation sample

The Government of Canada has piloted a new workforce model, ‘Free Agents’, which allows innovative public servants to seek out and contribute to project-based opportunities across the Canadian Public Service. Through this, the government has a way of improving workforce mobility, retaining talented staff and increasing the capacity of public service to innovate and solve pressing problems.

In 2011, the 15-M Spanish indignados movement brought thousands of citizens out to the streets demanding a better democracy. The cries for “we want a real democracy” followed several pervasive issues in the country – notably, the financial crisis, housing crisis, high unemployment rates, lack of job prospects for young people, corruption, and a sense of lack of political legitimacy of democratic institutions. This movement sought to improve democratic processes and institutions, especially by increasing transparency, accountability and participation. As a result, the city of Madrid was set to find a new way to engage with citizens and promote an active participation in matters of public life.

Following the decline of trust in public institutions propelled by a series of corruption scandals in Spain, the Madrid City Council developed the CONSUL software and launched it in Madrid under the name Decide Madrid in 2015. Decide Madrid is the official open governance platform serving as a one-stop shop for all official open governance processes in the municipality, including issues of transparency, open data and participation. The platform has many distinct areas for participation – namely, through its features providing spaces for debates, citizen proposals and participatory budgeting. As argued by Sam De Jhon from the Gov Lab UK: “The goal is to empower citizens, promote transparency and foster open government practices”.

The platform follows a very user-friendly approach, notably through its citizen proposals module by submitting, supporting and voting initiatives. Decide Madrid allows citizens to propose new local laws through a simple questionnaire. Subsequently, other local residents (aged 16+) are able to support their favourite proposals and prioritize the most interesting and relevant proposals. Proposals that receive support from at least 1% of the population are sent to the final voting phase. Finally, registered users can contribute to the debate on the select initiatives, vote for or against motions and provide additional comments.

Even though proposals receive a majority support in the voting phase, these initiatives still have to go through a process of revision by the Madrid City Council. A 30-day study of any such proposal is made, with a thorough evaluation of the legal, competence and economic feasibility of the initiative to determine if it will be approved. If the report rules in favour of the proposal, an action plan is written and published. In case of a negative review, the Council is responsible for drafting an alternative proposal to address the issue, or publish the reasons preventing its full implementation.

Other channels of participation in the platform include:

– Consultations. The government may submit important issues to consultations, as it has been the case in Madrid for the redevelopment of the main square of the city, building a pedestrian friendly space on the main road or the redevelopment of 10 different squares of the city.

– Crowdlaw. All the main regulations are published in the platform. Citizens can select sentences or paragraphs and make comments, as well as to support other comments.

– Participatory budgeting. Each year citizens of Madrid decide how to spend 100 million euros of the municipal budget. Citizens propose, select and vote the most interesting projects.

– Debates. There is an open space for citizen debates, where citizens create and prioritize the most interesting issues, defining their own city agenda. This is used as a space for citizen engagement and community building, as well as for citizen interviews with politicians.

CONSUL marked a turning point for the city of Madrid serving as the first channel for citizens to directly take part of debates, submit proposals and decide how to better administer the city’s budget. A particular innovative feature of the platform’s model is that public participation occurs before and during the design and development of the initiatives.

The initiative has taken advantage of the latest cutting-edge technologies available to modernize the municipality and engage citizens through an e-participation tool.

The project has received the United Nations Public Service Award 2018, and is being used in different UNDP projects.

CONSUL is the result of a collaborative effort led by the Madrid City Council. CONSUL’s open source software has seen contributions from more than 90 governments and civil society organizations from all over the world aiming to improve the code. The open collaboration has created a network of governments and organizations around the world that work and learn together. The network not only takes advantage of online skype meetings to share best practices, but also on-site learning visits.

In Madrid, for example, all citizens (aged +16) are able to register and participate through Decide Madrid.

– Decie Madrid has promoted greater inclusion of underrepresented segments of the population, including women and youth.

– Civil society, in particular local neighbourhood organizations

– Government officials were involved in its design and are important users of the platform to better understand citizens’ needs.

– The media has played an important role in disseminating information.

– The platform has achieved a high level of participation in Madrid, with more than 400,000 people registered.

– Regarding the proposals feature: as of November 2017, almost 20,000 proposals were submitted since the launch of the platform in 2015. The Decide Madrid platform was very successful in leveraging the participation of citizens in a project to remodel the city’s Plaza de España, where 26,961 citizens voted and commented on the proposals.

– Regarding the participatory budgeting feature: From 2016 to 2018 the amount allocated to these projects rose from €60 million to €100 million and the total number of participants rose by 100% from 45,531 to 91,032 people. This initiative was able to reach several segments of the population, as 49.12% were women and most participants were those between the ages of 35 – 39.

– Due to its high success, the platform has been exported to over 100 governments.

– CONSUL received the United Nations Public Service Award in 2018.

One important challenge in Madrid has been the resistance to the online platform by several traditional neighbourhood associations, which were used to face-to-face interactions and mediation processes. To address this issue, the Decide Madrid team set up several face-to-face deliberative spaces (i.e. local forums, physical voting booths) which aim to be more inclusive and cater to the different needs of stakeholders involved. The aim with any e-participation tool should be to promote collective deliberation and foster bottom-up exchange of proposals to guarantee a diversity of participants.

1. Set clear objectives, develop a plan, and adopt processes to citizen’s needs:

– A stakeholder-analysis is relevant to identify different needs from audiences. Involving the user as part of the design and operating with full transparency ensures the initiative’s continuity. Furthermore, engaging with traditionally underrepresented groups such as women and youth are key to encourage participation at all levels.

2. Ensure buy-in and support (i.e. including leadership):

– The success of Decide Madrid was backed by a strong political vision. Other conditions include working closely with lawmakers to align with regulation, ensure necessary human and financial resources are in place as well as communication resources to promote the platform.

3. Choose the right tools:

– The right software and user-friendly features of the platform help improve the user’s experience, understanding of the issue and consequently creates spaces for them to engage.

As part of its commitment to OGP, the Madrid team has shared its platform with other governments worldwide. Today more than 100 authorities are making use of this platform, in places such as Buenos Aires, Paris, Torino, Jalisco, La Paz, Nariño, Porto Alegre, Valencia and Oviedo. Its recent adoption in April 2018 by Uruguay at a national level displayed the high potential to scale up efforts, followed by Colombia.

1. E-participation platforms using the open source software CONSUL stand to benefit greatly from collaboration between intermediaries – including civil society, the media and government officials on a continuous basis.

2. A key to the success of any e-participation platform is to involve the end users and all relevant stakeholder in its design to ensure buy-in. It is also important to consider the needs of the different stakeholder groups to maximize the initiative’s impact, for example including those of underrepresented groups and users who would prefer face-to-face mediation opportunities.

3. Successful e-participation platforms have viral potential and can quickly spread to other sectors and applications, or be replicated in other countries.

CONSUL is an online platform for public participation in decision-making, launched initially by the Madrid city council and then joined by governments all over the world. The platform is open source, so any government can use it for free. The platform is designed for citizens to voice their concerns and participate through the development of proposals, votes for new laws, debates, crowdlaw, participatory budgeting and consultations.