The Innovation Guide – supporting public sector development based on user needs

The Innovation Guide is an innovation lab for learning and doing within SALAR (the Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions) a national members and employers’ organisation for local government in Sweden. The mission is to support public organisations who want to strengthen their employees' innovation skills and create new and better public services based on user needs. Through our unique support model with coaches all around the country we build capacity within the public sector to work user-centered through service design.

Innovation Summary

Innovation Overview

The mission of the Innovation Guide is to support public organisations who want to strengthen their employees' innovation skills and create new and better public services based on user needs. We started as a pilot in the fall of 2015, and has since become a permanent lab for learning within SALAR. As demand for our services has increased drastically we continuously adapt and adjust our offer to better answer to SALAR’s member’s needs. At the beginning of 2015 we had three important conditions to consider when developing our support:

1. be easily scalable and not involve excessive costs in the form of process support etc.
2. lead to concrete results within a reasonable period of time.
3. encourage a more innovative culture within participating organisations.

In order to develop a model and methods for service design processes adapted to the Swedish public sector we carried out a pre-study. We did an overview of existing knowledge and experiences regarding the mechanisms of development, improvement work and how innovation work can be supported. We also looked at different ways of teaching design thinking, as well as different practices for spreading knowledge to a larger audience. Through the pre-study we identified an increasing demand for practical tools and guidance, so we decided to launch a prototype pilot programme to test a model and setup hands-on.

In the pilot we could work iteratively and continue to develop processes and tools, together with the participating teams. The pilot was run with ten innovation teams, each consisting of 4-7 people from different municipalities/county councils, that signed up to test the model and outline of the development programme by working with their own chosen challenge during 8 months. Before, during and after the programme, project managers were interviewed about what type of support they needed in order to work independently with their projects. We then tested a web-based support platform complemented by training through workshops and coaching.

The support model is centred around a step-by-step guide through a development process consisting of six step - Define, Explore, Focus, Ideate, Prototype, Realise - based on user-driven innovation and service design.

Our offer today consists of:
1. A digital platform with step-by-step instructions, templates and films, freely available for all participants in our programme and courses, as well as anyone else who wishes to use it.
2. Development programmes. Participating teams work with their own challenge during 8 months and receive our support throughout the entire process. Each team is assigned a coach with knowledge of the service design methodology that can guide them and be used as a sounding board.
3. Crash courses in service design (2 days) designed for public servants/employees wishing to learn more about service design as a means to work with user-centred development in their organisation. Participants go through all 6 steps in the process with a fictive case.
4. Service Design for Politicians and Leaders. A brief introductory course that works as an eye opener. The course came to fruition after we saw the difficulties our teams have when their leaders/politicians lack an understanding of the process they were going through and the methods they were using.

Our development programme also entails a need for a network of coaches with service design experience. We have therefore conducted a number of coach training courses, to ensure coach capacity and quality. The network today consists of 55 coaches working within the public sector around the country who are able to coach teams throughout our model, either inside a development programme or in independently run projects.

The possibility for our members to learn the service design process by tackling a real life challenge has been a widely successful method to inspire a more long term change in the participants’ mindset, to make them want to keep developing the services together with their users. This spreading of design thinking in the development and delivery of public services is perhaps what we see as the greatest benefit for the customer and their users. Even though the solutions that are developed are of great value to the users, the learning process of the teams can make an even greater impact in the long run. Since the support is designed as training and education, as well as a comprehensive digital support, members can use it in the way that suits them best. Through us, our members get access to a working method that creates value and engagement for their organisation, their employees AND their users. Our development programme, courses and easily accessible materials and concrete tools make it easy to involve employees at various levels in development work to start working together with citizens to create better services.

Innovation Description

Innovation Development

Innovation Reflections

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Year: 2015
Level of government: Other


  • Developing Proposals - turning ideas into business cases that can be assessed and acted on
  • Implementation - making the innovation happen
  • 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

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