LA-BORA! gov arose from the need to improve the well-being and engagement of public servants. Created in December 2019, by public servants themselves, it is the first government innovation laboratory focused on improving public servant experience. It is a learning and innovation space with the purpose of supporting the creation of innovative solutions in people management, bringing civil servants closer to citizens and supporting leaders to work with an empathetic view of reality and a focus on people.
People management areas are historically understood as bureaucratic places and focused on processes. In addition, most of the actions aimed at improving the well-being of public servants refer to specific activities, such as yoga, meditation and choir classes. They are important, but they work as mitigators as they relieve stress, physical pain and mental suffering, effects that have much deeper causes. In 2019, we delved into research to understand the challenge of engagement in the public sector. The need for an empathetic view of people's reality was clear, one with systemic thinking about policies and actions and a change in behavior aimed at experimenting with people management policies and actions before implementing them on a large scale. Even more, we needed to transform people management from the most important partners in this process: the users - in this case, the public servants themselves. We created a government innovation laboratory, in which civil servants are empowered and are part of the solution, one that creates a sense of responsibility and allows for connecting more actively with this process. The result is greater engagement and productivity.
Co-creation and the perspective of the users was part of the construction of the laboratory from the beginning: the name (LA-BORA! gov), the purpose, the values and even the letter of services were designed with the public servants, in interactive and immersive workshops. We know that innovation is no longer a choice and all public servants can and should innovate. However, we have the challenge of bursting the “innovation bubble” and reaching people who think that innovating is not for them. When talking about innovation with jargon like “disruptive mindset”, showing international and private sector success stories, we fail to connect with the reality of others. Therefore, people management areas need to communicate with employees using simple language, with day-to-day examples, also showing cases of failure, in order to examine them and learn from them. Culture is transformed by practices, adapted to needs and contextualized. Thus, we were able to demystify innovation, show that it is not something for “young, cool people” or that it concerns only those who work with technology, and we managed to touch people's hearts. Many of the resistances are broken when diversity is welcomed, including ideas and profiles.
In research with public servants, we understand that there is a perception that these workers are resistant to change, they do not want to learn or innovate. In reality, many times we are so immersed in pending issues and urgencies that we are unable to look at trends. Other times, we lack autonomy and are micromanaged, which impedes our creative freedom. The imposition of unrealistic deadlines and expectations can hinder our inspiration and our systemic thinking. In this context, many courses and training have focused on equipping civil servants with tools, evidence and techniques to innovate. However, how to apply these new skills and instruments when the environment is rigid, discouraging and threatening? From the public servants' feedback, we understood that there is no lack of skills in the public sector and that the servants are not lacking in learning and transforming. However, there is a lack of psychologically safe environments for people and ideas to connect and for employees to put their socio-behavioral skills into practice.
Innovative environments, which promote our human nature and skills, might not be common in public administration. From this perspective, engagement does not emanate from control, but from creative confidence, which is the element that greases and links ideas, people and emotions. Thus, the perspective for the future is not only to instruct, but to change behavioral models. For this, we abandon the romanticized view that we all need to be motivated and happy all the time at work. By removing these evasive speeches about purpose and motivation, we are able to focus on what really matters. For example, we encourage leaders to create environments conducive to purposeful questioning (which is different from accommodating complaining). Harmonious workplaces, where there are no disagreements, often camouflage unmanaged tensions and oppressive environments, where leaders only want to hear the echo of their own voices.
What Makes Your Project Innovative?
Innovation can be mistakenly understood as technology, digitization or associated with expensive and ambitious solutions. However, the innovation we brought managed, at zero cost for the public administration, to transform the way in which the government relates to its workers. The solutions are simple and accessible to the servers and co-created with them using innovative approaches. Our actions are based on evidence and research that demonstrates the needs of public servers. An example of this was a survey with the People in Government Lab at the University of Oxford on well-being and engagement in remote work. Our services break with the old-fashioned perspective of specific actions, such as extrinsic incentives and benefits as a form of engagement. On the contrary, we are guided by practices that encourage the connection of ideas, people and hearts at work. The idea is to find meaning in work.
What is the current status of your innovation?
LABORA! gov has reached over 35,000 public servants and provided opportunities to burst the innovation bubble. The programme is developing many other initiatives that simplify public servants' work lives and improve their well-being.
Collaborations & Partnerships
- Public sector: Laboratories, schools and areas of innovation in government
- Private sector: Hubs, Innovation Startups, govtechs and 3rd sector
- Academia: Researchers and scholars on the subject
- Users: Public servants. We created a new work model (FREE-LAS!) that allows public servers to actively participate in all our actions and services. All the results are published on the LA-BORA! gov website
Users, Stakeholders & Beneficiaries
Citizens are impacted as the improvement of the public servant experience is directly related to the improvement of the public service user, the citizen experience. Thus, direct users of LA-BORA! gov are the public servants, which participate from end to end and enjoy the results.
Results, Outcomes & Impacts
Between January 2020 and June 2022, LA-BORA! gov carried out 214 services, including workshops, mentorships, lectures, courses and conversation circles, both in person and online. More than 35,000 servers were directly impacted, from more than 80 different bodies in the Brazilian public sector. In addition, we achieved 120,000 asynchronous views of the lectures available on the youtube laboratory channel. The users' anonymous assessment of the services reflects the perception and impact on the lives of the servers: 98% rated the experience as good or excellent and 98% said they would participate in LA-BORA! gov actions again. We measure results by rating all services anonymously.
In the future, we hope to scale and spread LA-BORA! gov practices in all public administration bodies. When that happens, we will no longer need to exist as an innovation laboratory, as experimentation, empathy and focus on the user would be part of the servers' daily lives.
Challenges and Failures
The biggest challenges are linked to constant changes in management and the need for constant negotiation and convincing. This impacts on risks of discontinuity of services. To reduce this risk, recently, LA-BORA! gov was institutionalized in the structure of the Ministry of Economy. The team views failures as opportunities to change course. An example of this was the beginning of the pandemic, which we see as a setback but which quickly became an opportunity to expand work and burst the innovation bubble. We started reaching servers remotely and greatly increased our impact. Another challenge is not to romanticize work. We can't change people, but we can design experiences that encourage desirable behaviors. Thus, many other initiatives are under development, such as the creation of nudges (or behavioral interventions) that simplify our work lives and improve well-being.
Conditions for Success
At the beginning we believed that it would be essential to have a physical space, which afterwards became unnecessary. Today, THE LA-BORA! gov are the people, the public servants that work here. The user's need changes all the time and norms are stricter than people, which is why regulations should be flexible. We form leaders and we have a humanized and inspiring leadership. Our human resources are diverse in gender, race, experience and perspective. We have more than 400 FREE-LAs registered, from more than 80 different agencies and we invite employees from this bank of collaborators to all our actions. Our values are translated into behaviors and we evaluate them annually in workshops with users (public servants). Currently, in 2022, they are: empathy, innovation, valuing all ideas, collaboration and transparency.
LA-BORA! gov is developed in iterative and experimental cycles, grounded in design approaches. Once tested and qualified, we implement them. To enable other bodies and people to implement them, we created the Thematic Curatorship (Curadoria Temática), a repository of practical, simple and intuitive models that can be adapted and applied in different realities (https://www.gov.br/servidor/pt- br/assuntos/laboragov/curadoria-tematica). Several agencies have adapted and used these models.
Public servants have been in difficult situations, in environments of toxic and only apparent harmony. Our work aims to inspire a reinvention, a transformation of perspectives. However, a lesson learned is that we are not more creative or innovative than other servers. Certainly, we had more opportunities and luck. We all can and should innovate. For this very reason, it is our obligation to reach more servers and support them on this journey. Another lesson is that innovation does not always involve technology and high resources. All of us as public servants can and must innovate. There is no recipe, nor a linear path to innovate. Trusting the team, giving autonomy, supporting people, connecting feelings and ideas are means for innovation.
We inspire public servants to reconnect with their spirit for public service and transform realities.
- Evaluation - understanding whether the innovative initiative has delivered what was needed
- Diffusing Lessons - using what was learnt to inform other projects and understanding how the innovation can be applied in other ways
4 August 2023