The Government of Finland has launched an “Experimentation Accelerator” as a network-based self-organising platform for innovative public servants to develop cross-sectoral solutions through co-creation, mutual learning and sparring from inspiring innovation champions. This year there are 17 teams involved in the process consisting of 4 co-working sessions, with experiments ranging from Lean Start-up, deepened service thinking in and across the participating organisations to AI and strategic HR.
The Experimentation Accelerator seeks to put service-dominant logic and the people at the heart of public sector innovation, both in terms of the customers, stakeholders in the service ecosystem and citizens. By so doing it addresses the challenges of silo-based administration and barriers to collaboration, as well as supports the shift to a more self-organisational learning in developing innovative working practice in the public sector working environments.
It provides encouragement to think and to act differently and by so doing empowering the people at their work places it strengthens the internal motivation for transformation in the public sector, whilst ensuring people feel motivated to work in the public sector working places and see the connection between their internal motivation and external satisfaction and trust in the public administration. By providing a safe environment to experiment in, the accelerator allows people to try new things and learn from them without fear of failure. Failure can rather be seen as an opportunity for maximizing the learning that place. In the 4 co-working sessions the teams learn from each other and create an understanding of what experimental governance and experimental development mean in practical terms.
What Makes Your Project Innovative?
In a culture where careful planning is seen as a priority above all else, a truly self-organising process, based on peer-learning and co-creation is still a novelty. Only the process and basic structure of 4 co-learning sessions is pre-determined, almost everything else is determined in the process, by the participants themselves and all learning and lessons along the way can influence the implementation. Though the selection of focus and content is determined by the participants themselves, this time we hoped to have themes focusing on collaboration and cooperation, as these were seen as the key areas in the first round of experimentation acceleration.
What is the current status of your innovation?
The first accelerator was organised in 2017-2018, now the lessons from that have been taken into consideration and the power of learning as self-organising teams taken a step forward. The experience from the first round of accelerator activity was positive and the uncertainty of an open process, only defined in terms of the times and venues for the shared sessions worked well. The teams learned from each other and the mutual innovation support was even more valuable than the support of inspiring experts, though they were also important.
Collaborations & Partnerships
Collaboration is not pre-detemined, partnerships can be forged and expanded during the process. In addition to public sector, also PPPs are possible. Amongst the organisers in the last (1st ever) round of accelerator (Work 2.0. project, Ministry of Finance, D9 design team, "Experimental Finland" at PMO etc.) this time also the Finnish Broadcasting Company and Finnish Innovation Fund Sitra have joined the team of organisers.
Users, Stakeholders & Beneficiaries
Mainly other public sector organisations, but also citizens, companies and third sector organisations and collaboration partners through activities such as PPP collaboration and customer panels.
Results, Outcomes & Impacts
The process has only started, but from the first round done in 2017-2018. This time around a new tool for mutual learning and sharing ldeas has been tested ("Idea Factory" or "Ideatehdas": https://www.ideatehdas.fi/t/ideataulu/?f=aWRlYXRhdWx1VElEPW9UeGc3dlFQM0UmZmVhdHVyZT1pZGVhdGF1bHU).
Expected results and impacts are connected in particular to change in thinking and mentality in the public sector, increasing the courage and empowerment of professionals to take ownership over their own learning and innovation processes and making the hurdles for collaboration easier to overcome.
Results are new processes, practices and forms of collaboration, connected to better quality and effectiveness of innovation and experimental activities and impacts change in thinking, working and collaboration, basically resulting in empowerment and cultural change.
Challenges and Failures
The dynamic and self-organising nature of processes involved makes the processes also difficult to foresee through traditional planning and control mechanisms. It creates uncertainty and insecurity and can of course also lead to failure. The utilisation of external sparring partners and coaches is dependent on many contextual factors and human aspects of the process. Success cannot be pre-determined.
Self-organisation is a relatively new principle, which demands a lot from all participating parties and can lead to discouragement or even some of the teams dropping out, if they are unable to find time and maintain energy and motivation. This is where the peer support and openness of the processes comes in: there will hopefully always be a colleague, who can help to retain interest and energy in the accelerator process.
Conditions for Success
Leadership has been identified an important factor: already in the first round the Prime Minister's State Secretary and all Permanent Secretaries provided their support and encouragement. The stories shared in the sessions and the acceptance of failure (e.g. Day of Failure events) were also a central part of supporting experimentation in practice.
The rules and policies are determined in the process, by the participants, which keeps the process open and dynamic.
The infrastructure includes the already infrastructure of "Experimental Finland" and other participating organisations. External and neutral facilitation of collaboration has been found very valuable in forging new partnerships and practices in new areas.
There is no direct replication as such, but the first round of accelerator was certainly used as inspiration and base for learning, when a similar process was designed at the Finnish Association of Local Authorities https://www.kuntaliitto.fi/asiantuntijapalvelut/johtaminen-ja-kehittaminen/kokeilujalostamo. Service Designers who were behind this process also collaborated with the Accelerator in its first year of activity.
Lessons from this round are still to be identified, as we have only started, but there were lessons from the first round, e.g. on the importance of external facilitation and support, as well as flexibility or the processes required. The experimental and innovative governance network has expanded and new methods, organisations and platforms have been emerging. One of the lessons is the need to keep the community connected and open. Instead of any single method or tool, the importance of network facilitation and governance has been important and we still have a great deal to learn there.
A shared understanding of the goal and vision is important, as is the forging of a shared culture and language, based on mutual trust and learning. This requires time and patience. The Finnish community of experimental and innovative governance is growing all the time and we think one can perceive a change in thinking from a problem-driven to solution-driven. It is a self-organising way of working, which requires a high degree of self-reflection is still in the early stages and there is a lot to learn. This requires a lot of time and one of the main effects of the process may actually be the time it "creates" for the participants: having half day or 1-day sessions of co-creation is a major help in people’s everyday working life today, allowing them to stop and reflect on their practice.