Meld. St. 30 (2019–2020)

An innovative public sector — Culture, leadership and competence

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10 Innovation collaboration

Figure 10.1 

Figure 10.1

Together with research groups, business and industry, civil society and citizens, public agencies can think differently, grasp opportunities and find new solutions to both large and small challenges. Allowing new voices and perspectives to become part of the development of the welfare society can help to create new opportunities and new ways of understanding and addressing the challenges society faces. This can result in better solutions for citizens and strengthen our democracy.

10.1 The current situation

One question in the Innovation Barometer surveys concerns who the respondents cooperated with on their most recent innovation. Both central and local government respondents stated that they mainly cooperate with other public sector representatives. Around 20 per cent of the central government agencies and 15 per cent of local government respondents stated that they cooperated with private enterprises, while around 15 per cent stated that they cooperated with users or citizens.1

10.1.1 Democracy and innovation

New and alternative forms of involvement and participation are subject to international debate on the state of democracy. The OECD’s report Governance at a Glance shows that developments in many countries have been inspired by the open government principles of transparency, accountability and citizen engagement.2

Transparency about problems and issues, processes and results and, not least, how citizen involvement takes place, promotes trust. Transparency is also a precondition for citizens being able to hold the authorities accountable for their actions and decisions. This is important, not least in the context of innovation.

Norway was one of the prime movers behind the Open Government Partnership, which was established in order to strengthen cooperation between citizens and the public administration. The idea behind the Open Government Partnership is that the best way of creating a more open, well-functioning and user-friendly public administration is open, honest and broad collaboration between the public sector and civil society. Norway’s fourth Open Government Partnership action plan contains a total of eight commitments and has been developed in a collaboration between the ministries and civil society.3

There are many ways to involve citizens in innovation. Several of them have been tested in Norway. The common denominator is engaging citizens in new ways and including more people in discussions about issues that are important for local communities or the development of society. Citizens are a resource and possess know-how and experience that elected authorities can learn from. They also have both ideas and opinions that can be important for decision-makers to be aware of. The new citizen participation schemes take place within the framework and on the basis of representative democracy.

Examples of schemes that have been tested are the Citizen Panel in the City of Bergen, which has provided advice in concrete cases. The Local Community Committee in Sandefjord municipality has contributed to developing activity schemes and good environments for children and young people to grow up in. Gjestebud, a system of informal discussion meetings, has provided input to major planning processes in Svelvik, Tjeldsund and Hammerfest municipalities. Tromsø municipality has involved citizens in political matters and case development through the project Smart Demokrati. A number of municipalities also involve children and young people in urban and public planning (Box 10.1).

Textbox 10.1 Involvement of children and young people

A number of municipalities have found innovative ways of involving children and young people in urban and public planning.

Barnetråkk has now become a digital tool and teaching scheme. It was developed by DOGA, the Ministry of Local Government and Modernisation and the University of Bergen. Barnetråkk lets children tell planners, local authorities and politicians how they use the areas in which they live and what they want to be done differently. Through the scheme’s digital tools, children and young people can register and map how they use their local area in a simple way. It has been implemented in 185 municipalities.

The City of Stavanger has involved children and young people in the development of its city centre plan. The local authorities involved pupils from lower and upper secondary schools through a development workshop that also involved using the computer game Minecraft. The planners had uploaded the municipal plan proposal to the game in advance. The children explored their surroundings and were able to change them as they pleased. In the last part of the workshop, the children were given 3D VR headsets and a games console and wandered around a virtual 3D model of Stavanger city centre and the plan proposal. The places the children visited were registered, as well as their comments and responses. The involvement project resulted in more open city spaces being included in the plan proposal, and the location of play areas was considered in connection with future city centre development projects.


10.1.2 Co-creation of service development with citizens

Citizens have high expectations of the public authorities. User centricity is not about meeting these expectations at all costs, but about letting the citizens’ needs be at the core of developing the services the public sector provides.

User participation is a key principle enshrined in a number of Norwegian laws, including the Patients’ Rights Act, the Health and Care Services Act and the Labour and Welfare Administration Act. The objective of user participation is to improve the quality of services by giving users genuine influence over the choice and design of public services. User participation means that services are as far as possible designed in cooperation with users and that strong emphasis is placed on what users want. When citizens or users take part in developing or implementing services, their experience-based knowledge can complement the public administration’s professional know-how. This system was used, for example, in the development of Asker Welfare Lab (Box 10.2).

Textbox 10.2 Asker Welfare Lab

Experience from Asker municipality and Asker Welfare Lab shows that co-creation with users and other affected parties is both relevant and effective in the development of services.

In 2013, Asker became a pilot municipality in the Norwegian State Housing Bank’s testing of service design methodology for the development of user-centred social housing services. Asker initiated an open and inclusive process that emphasised understanding user needs. Insight from this work showed that users of social housing services had complex needs that could not be met exclusively by the social housing services offered by the municipality.

In response to this conclusion, the municipality established Asker Welfare Lab, which is a new type of collaboration model where services for families or young people with difficult living situations are coordinated in a long-term perspective. Through Asker Welfare Lab, the municipality has gone from the idea of welfare being an expense to welfare being seen as an investment.

The families or residents involved in the Welfare Lab have complex needs and will require municipal services for a long time. The participants are first assigned an investment team. The team is composed of staff from the services that are relevant to the specific person or family’s situation. The team has budget funding at its disposal, and the members have been granted decision-making power by their respective agencies. This means that the team can act quickly and with less bureaucracy.

The example shows that good citizen involvement and an investment perspective on welfare tasks can help the public sector to shift its focus from repair to prevention.

To illustrate the change in a citizen’s life situation as a result of the measures, an investment journey was devised that included the stages unbearable, vulnerable, stable and sustainable. These categories encompass combinations and degrees of challenges within the areas of housing, employment, schooling, networks, finances, health and the conditions children grow up in. Asker municipality aims to help as many citizens/families as possible to achieve a stable or sustainable life situation.

The consultancy firm PwC has developed a model to calculate the benefits of Asker Welfare Lab. Based on the success criteria on which the model is based, they believe that Asker Welfare Lab is profitable.

The lab has also inspired others. An example is the collaboration between the Country Governor of Oslo og Viken and the local municipalities, where the regional administration provides coordinated and cohesive support through the Welfare Pilot in Oslo og Viken. Among other things, they are testing the use of direct investment in the municipalities and delegating more authority to members of expert groups from their respective agencies.

Source Asker municipality, PwC (2019) Følgenotat til videreutviklet effektmodell for Asker Velferdslab (‘Memo on the further developed effect model for Asker Welfare Lab’ – in Norwegian only), the County Governor of Oslo og Viken

Self-service solutions offered by public agencies such as NAV, the Norwegian Tax Administration and local authorities are examples of citizens performing services themselves. They allow citizens to perform tasks previously carried out by the public services, making them more accessible and efficient for the public.

10.1.3 The voluntary sector

Volunteering plays a strong role in Norwegian society. Civil society efforts, communal work and non-profit organisations are a fundamental aspect of our culture both nationally and in local communities. In 2018, the Government presented its white paper on the voluntary sector, which aims to enhance civil society’s possibility of participating in social development and contributing to work on resolving societal challenges.4

There are numerous examples of non-profit organisations and dedicated volunteers in the voluntary sector contributing to new solutions for society. The voluntary sector is diverse, with participants ranging from large organisations with wide-ranging activities to small and medium-sized organisations in the fields of sports, culture and outdoor life. Many non-profit service providers also welcome voluntary effort and activities. Around half of those who define themselves as social entrepreneurs are non-profit organisations, foundations or non-profit limited liability companies that are entitled to register in the Register of Non-Profit Organizations.5 A survey of social entrepreneurs in Norway showed that around 40 per cent of social entrepreneurs were organised as a non-profit organisation.6

Local authorities play an important role as active partners for non-profit organisations and volunteers. However, only about five per cent of the respondents in KS’s Innovation Barometer survey from 2020 state that they have cooperated with non-profit organisations on innovation.7

In the digitalisation strategy, starting and running a non-profit organisation is identified as one of seven life events.8 The measures under this life event aim to simplify and coordinate communication between the voluntary and public sectors. The Register of Non-Profit Organizations has an important function in this process. It facilitates non-profit organisations by ensuring that they only have to report information to the public sector once and facilitates the use of digital solutions. These efforts must be seen in conjunction with the simplification reform, which is an express goal of the white paper on the voluntary sector. It states that it must be simple for non-profit organisations to apply for, receive and report on public funding. Efficient administration and digitalisation are among the policy instruments used to achieve simplification.9

10.2 Assessment of the situation

Public sector innovation entails taking a whole-system approach across different administrative levels and sectors. Collaboration with non-public sector parties, such as voluntary or non-profit organisations, research communities, social entrepreneurs, the private sector and, not least, citizens enhances innovation work. Collaboration introduces new perspectives and opportunities to the development of the public sector and thereby enhances innovation capacity.

KS’s and Difi’s innovation barometers show that innovation collaborations are common. The Government believes, however, that there is an untapped potential for collaboration both within the public sector and with other parties, particularly the voluntary sector.

Opportunities and the challenges facing society change over time. This means that the public sector’s need for tools, roles and work methods also changes. Modernisation and innovation can create a need for new ways of working and collaborating.

10.3 The way forward

10.3.1 Democracy and innovation

Public agencies work in accordance with laws and regulations that require that affected parties be heard when a matter is under preparation.10 They are also under the authority of politicians, who are elected by citizens every four years. Citizen involvement between democratic elections can be a supplement to representative democracy. It can compensate for the distance and differences between elected representatives and the public.

The Government will continue to invest in the Open Government Partnership and other initiatives that promote innovation through co-creation.

At the same time, representative democracy within the bounds of its formal framework must remain the principal arrangement. New arrangements for citizen participation must be based on and implemented within this framework.

New ways of involving citizens must take place within the regulatory framework. The Local Government Act contains certain provisions that explicitly provide for citizen participation between elections, such as citizen proposals and referendums. However, the way in which this takes place must not be in conflict with what is otherwise regulated by law and is intended to support the ordinary election system, elected representatives and elected bodies.

The Local Government Act sets out some limitations, but gives municipalities and county authorities a high degree of freedom to organise their own activities in both their political work and the public administration. The Ministry of Local Government and Modernisation encourages municipalities and county authorities to explore these possibilities.

As a local democratic measure to improve citizen inclusion, many have proposed appointing what are known as task committees. There is no clear definition of a task committee, nor is it a type of body that is specifically described in or regulated by the Local Government Act. A task committee must therefore be established and organised within the general legal rules for the organisation of elected bodies that apply to committees established by elected representatives in the local government sector.

10.3.2 The voluntary sector

The voluntary sector can form an important part of society’s overall development capacity and can contribute to public sector innovation. The Government acknowledges the voluntary sector’s important role in societal development. The Government’s policy goals for the voluntary sector include broad participation and that the sector should be strong, independent and grow from the bottom up.11

A study conducted by the Norwegian Institute for Urban and Regional Research (NIBR) concluded that dedicated volunteers can and should be defined and acknowledged as parties that can contribute to development to a much greater degree than is currently the case in many municipalities. Volunteers increase the municipalities’ development capacity and the overall capacity of the local community.12

The voluntary sector and commercial enterprises can overlap to some extent. Some social entrepreneurs intersect with the voluntary sector, for example in the services they provide or in that they employ or engage volunteers as part of their business model. Non-profit organisations provide services that compete with commercial enterprises, for example in the area of substance abuse and health and care services. The Norwegian Digitalisation Agency is developing a guide for the health and social services that will describe how to facilitate non-profit actors participating in public tendering processes.

10.3.3 Collaboration models

The Government would like to see public agencies cooperating more to address complex challenges facing society, grasp new opportunities and provide seamless services to the public. The Government has established a Nordic 0–24 collaboration to ensure better services for children and young people (Box 4.1) and healthcare communities to create more seamless health and care services (Box 10.3).

Textbox 10.3 Healthcare communities

One of the main measures outlined in the white paper National Health and Hospital Plan 2020–2023 (Meld. St. 7 (2019–2020)) aimed at creating more seamless health and care services is the establishment of 19 healthcare communities. Representatives of health trusts, local authorities, local GPs and users will come together in the healthcare communities to plan and develop the services. The Government and KS have entered into an agreement on the establishment of healthcare communities and the guiding principles that will apply. Four vulnerable patient groups have been identified for prioritisation in the healthcare communities: children and young people, people with multiple chronic illnesses, people with severe mental illness and substance use problems, and frail elderly people. The healthcare communities can be good arenas for creating and diffusing innovation projects.

Knowledge and awareness that the choice of collaboration model should be linked to the purpose of innovation efforts can make collaborations more effective. In connection with this white paper, InFuture conducted a survey of collaboration models used in innovation projects. This showed that most collaborations are fairly traditionally organised, and that this does not always support the intended innovation.13 Work on the seven life events (Chapter 6) may entail new and constructive collaborations between public agencies and administrative levels. Learning from work in these areas and enabling experience to be transferred to others are important aspects of efficient service development.

10.4 The Government’s aims

Collaboration introduces new perspectives and opportunities to the development of the public sector, and enhances opportunities for innovation.

The Government will:

  • promote transparency and citizen involvement in the development and implementation of policies

  • continue its work on the seven life events and address users’ need for better and more seamless services across sectors and administrative levels, and learn from this way of working. The work will also result in learning about different forms of collaboration.

  • facilitate better user involvement and co-creation of services with citizens and the voluntary sector, including by continuing work on framework conditions.



Measuring New Nordic Solutions, Innovation Barometer for the Public Sector. Report. Available at


OECD (2019) Governance at a Glance. Report


Ministry of Local Government and Modernisation, 2019: Fourth Norwegian Action Plan – Open Government Partnership (OGP)


White paper on the voluntary sector (Meld. St. 10 (2018–2019) Frivilligheita – sterk, sjølvstendig, mangfaldig – Den statlege frivilligheitspolitikken)


Kraglund and Enjolras (eds.) (2017) Norsk frivillighet: Utviklingstrender og samfunnseffekter (‘Norwegian volunteering: Development trends and effects on society’ – in Norwegian only)


Eimhjellen and Loga (2016) Utvikling av sosialt entreprenørskap i Norge (‘Development of social entrepreneurship in Norway’ – in Norwegian only). UniResearch Rokkansenteret. Report 9/2016


KS (2020) Innovation Barometer 2020


Ministry of Local Government and Modernisation (2019): Digital strategy for the public sector 2019–2025


White paper on the voluntary sector (Meld. St. 10 (2018–2019) Frivilligheita – sterk, sjølvstendig, mangfaldig – Den statlege frivilligheitspolitikken)


E.g. the Public Administration Act and Instructions for Official Studies and Reports


White paper on the voluntary sector (Meld. St. 10 (2018–2019) Frivilligheita – sterk, sjølvstendig, mangfaldig – Den statlege frivilligheitspolitikken)


NIBR (2014) Ildsjeler og lokalt utviklingsarbeid (‘Dedicated volunteers and local development work’ – in Norwegian only). Report 2014:2


InFuture (2019) Dynamiske modeller for samarbeid om innovasjon i offentlig sektor (‘Dynamic models for cooperation on public sector innovation’ – in Norwegian only). Report

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