Meld. St. 30 (2019–2020)

An innovative public sector — Culture, leadership and competence

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8 Competence in innovation

Figure 8.1 

Figure 8.1

Having the right competence helps to achieve more public sector innovation. It is therefore important that public agencies recruit and develop the necessary competence through strategic competence management. Universities and other higher education institutions must offer study programs that give employees the competence they need to address current and future challenges, and to identify new opportunities. Together with other providers, the educational institutions must offer good basic education programs and continuing and further education in cooperation with the social partners.

8.1 The current situation

Competence is a comprehensive concept. This report uses the same definition as the Norwegian Committee on Competence Needs, which states that competence is a combination of knowledge, understanding, skills, qualities, attitudes and values.1

The need for competence in the public sector is met by mobilising, renewing and further developing employees’ existing expertise, or by recruiting new capable employees that the organisations need today and in the future. Both approaches are part of public agencies’ strategic competence development and management.

Renewing and further developing existing competence can take place through education, training, work experience, continuous competence development in the workplace and through various forms of further and continuing education.2 In other words, the skills needed to achieve innovation are covered by the education sector, through central and local government programs and through practical experience of various methods that foster innovation. Because technology is one of the enablers of innovation, technology skills are also important to be able to increase the pace of innovation.

The Government has given priority to competence work in the state sector and has facilitated digital learning, among other things through the competence management tool The Business Platform (Virksomhetsplattformen) and the learning initiative Online with learning (På nett med læring); see Chapter 7.

8.1.1 Competence through higher education

High quality and good cooperation between the labour market and research and education institutions are key factors if we are to achieve modernisation, rationalisation and innovation in public agencies. There is currently extensive collaboration between the universities and other public and private institutions involved in research, innovation and education. The Government wishes to further develop this partnership. Higher education in Norway should be based on research. The role of research is discussed in Chapter 12.

Higher education institutions must help to ensure that society has access to qualified labour, and many public sector employees have attended Norwegian educational institutions. The University and University Colleges Act and the national qualifications framework for higher education make it clear that the institutions shall contribute to innovation and that candidates at all levels of education must be familiar with innovation processes. Students at master’s degree level must also be capable of contributing to innovation. Most higher education institutions facilitate and support various forms of student innovation. This prepares students for their role as agents of change in the future healthcare sector, school system or other public sector activities. This will enable sustainable development of society and public sector innovation.

In the long-term plan for research and higher education (2019–2028), the Government emphasises that the public sector must start utilising new research-based knowledge, new work methods and new forms of organisation.3 There is no set recipe for innovation, but both research and systematic learning from practice show that some methods and tools are particularly suited to finding new, innovative solutions.

A council for cooperation with working life (Råd for samarbeid med arbeidslivet (RSA)) has been established to contribute to more and better collaboration between higher education institutions and the labour market. Most state-owned higher education institutions have incorporated job relevance, either directly or indirectly, in their development agreements with the Ministry of Education and Research.

8.1.2 Work methods and skills that foster innovation

Although some new work methods and tools have been introduced in recent years, the public sector must make more use of work methods that foster innovation. This requires knowledge of how to use these methods and in what situations they are useful. In a Menon report on innovation activity in the local government sector, more than 40 per cent of those interviewed indicated that competence is a barrier to achieving more innovation.4 Competence can be acquired through education, courses and other knowledge-enhancing measures, combined with experience. Relevant courses and programs are available, but they have not been systematically presented or collated.

The work methods presented below are not exhaustive, and must be seen in conjunction with, for example, a culture of innovation (Chapter 7), the use of big data in innovation (Chapter 6) and trials (Chapter 9).


In human-centred design, needs form the basis for how problems or possibilities are understood. Design is based on a way of thinking that can be summarised in the following sentence: What and for whom, rather than how.

Service design is a specialisation concerned with improving the experience of a service and enhancing its added value. System-oriented design uses visualisation to capture the complexity of systems. Both approaches have been applied in the public sector in recent years.

Several different guides to, or roadmaps for, design-driven innovation have been developed. The roadmap for service innovation (Veikart for tjenesteinnovasjon) is KS’s toolbox for creating better services for the inhabitants in a municipality, while Design and Architecture Norway (DOGA) has developed a guide to design-driven innovation (Guide for designdrevet innovasjon) for both private and public sector organisations. The Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions has developed the website as a guide to design-driven public sector innovation. It combines an online tool with courses and assistance in innovation processes.

The Norwegian Digitalisation Agency and DOGA have jointly developed StimuLab, a scheme for stimulating innovation and service design. The aim of StimuLab is to support and stimulate user-oriented public sector innovation through the use of service design, testing and experimentation. The scheme is intended to strengthen the public sector’s capacity for and competence in innovation by supporting individual innovation projects and contributing to competence-raising and sharing of experience across organisational boundaries. StimuLab offers funding and interdisciplinary guidance to understanding problems and defining needs, and to ensuring support for the process in the organisation and committing it to investing the necessary resources and efforts in the process, the delivery and the subsequent implementation. The funds are spent on acquiring competence in the market, and the aim is that the projects that are recruited will result in new and improved services, processes or systems. Projects that require collaboration between several parties and involve complex issues that cannot be resolved alone are given priority under the scheme. Box 8.1 shows an example of a StimuLab project.

Textbox 8.1 Digital administration of driving entitlements

The digital administration of driving entitlements is an example of the challenges and possibilities that lie in cross-sector collaboration. Every year, between 200,000 and 300,000 people apply for renewal of their driving licence, or right to drive, for example because they have reached the age of 80. Losing the right to drive is something many people see as a major interference in their lives.

The process for renewing driving entitlements involves several rounds of paper-based, manual case processing and personal attendance by the applicant. The Directorate of Public Roads, the Directorate of Health, the Directorate of eHealth, the National Police Directorate, the county governors and all the country’s GPs and opticians have key roles and responsibilities in this process.

The biggest challenge lies in the assessment of the medical requirements that form the basis for the right to drive, and in the division of responsibility between the actors involved. Efforts had been ongoing for ten years to address the complexity and inefficiency of the process, which had been reported as a ‘time thief’ to the public administration, before the directorates established a project. Since 2018, the project has received support and funding under the StimuLab scheme. Through a process based on design methodology and an open, explorative approach to the issue, roles and responsibilities, the organisations involved managed, in the course of nine months, to come up with the concept for a possible solution. The program for digital administration of driving entitlements was established in order to realise the concept. The program is financed by the directorates, with support from the Norwegian Digitalisation Agency’s co-financing scheme, and will develop a digital solution for communicating the GP’s conclusion on the medical certificate to the Norwegian Public Roads Administration. The potential gain is estimated to have a net present value of NOK 940 million over ten years.

The project has also identified a potential for using a new framework for information sharing that can simplify the introduction of national e-health solutions.

Source Norwegian Digitalisation Agency


In work methods based on agile or lean processes, self-organised teams carry out the innovation work, with rapid testing and implementation of partial solutions during the process. In these processes, the same team works on needs, solutions, testing and implementation.

ICT projects are increasingly moving away from large projects and instead addressing challenges in incremental steps using technology that enables smaller elements to build on each other in several ways. This work method provides greater flexibility for change and can be useful in other areas as well.


To look into the future is a practice that fosters innovation. The OECD argues that those who will succeed with public sector innovation are those who manage to envisage and act on the basis of discussions about and assessments of the future. Expanding on why and how we understand the future gives us more choices. Openness and broad collaboration are decisive for good foresight processes.5 There are a variety of different foresight methods.

Futures literacy is one of the methods used by UNESCO, for example. Being future literate means being prepared for the future and thereby taking a more long-term, strategic approach.

Strategic foresight, or scenario development, recognises that there are a range of plausible developments and discusses them in the form of scenarios. Strategic foresight enables us to identify, understand and respond to trends and describe different possible futures.6

In its work on this white paper, the Ministry of Local Government and Modernisation has developed four scenarios for the public sector in 2040. The scenarios were developed to initiate strategic dialogues that create preparedness for change, but do not express the Government’s wishes or fears. The scenarios have been published in a separate report.7

UNESCO and the OECD are making active efforts to enhance the ability of society to develop knowledge about the future effects of technology, to be able to steer it towards the desired development.

Nudging and behavioural science

Nudge theory is a concept that originated in behavioural sciences, psychology and behavioural economics. The idea is that small changes in how choices are presented can influence the choices we consciously or unconsciously make, without direct regulation through legislation being required.

There are examples of knowledge from behavioural sciences being used to alter behaviour in relation to pension saving, consumer issues, internal efficiency in organisations, and tax collection. Many countries have used behavioural science concepts in policy-making, including the Behavioural Insights Team in the UK. In Norway, some public agencies have started applying this knowledge and these methods, but their application is not widespread and not very systematic. In spring 2013, the Norwegian Tax Administration and the Norwegian School of Economics (NHH) conducted a trial where groups of citizens received differently worded letters about declaring income earned abroad in their tax returns. The experiment showed that taxpayers were more likely to declare larger sums if the letter subtly appealed to their moral obligation to pay tax. Fewer of those who received a letter warning about the risk of getting caught reported their foreign income.8

Plain language

Plain language is about adapting the text to the user, which contributes to more efficient public administration and better and more user-friendly services. User centricity is a principle that fosters innovation, which means that plain language and innovation work go hand in hand. The Norwegian Digitalisation Agency and the Language Council of Norway are working together on measures to stimulate user-friendly language in the central government.9 They are also working with KS on plain language in the local government sector and are liaising with, among others, the University of Oslo, which has a focus on plain legal language and a bachelor’s degree program in plain language. Tromsø municipality has developed a user manual for plain language in service design. The guide contains eight steps to developing user-friendly services and can be used by the whole public sector.10

Skedsmo municipality’s work on plain language has changed both the method of communication and organisation of a public service. It started with a desire to improve information about the allocation of, and process of moving into, assisted living facilities, but resulted in a change to the work process. One of the outcomes of the process was a reduction of waiting times for people in need of assisted living facilities from five months to five weeks.

Digital competence can foster more innovation

Both employees and managers need digital competence. This includes a strategic understanding of technology, the ability to link technology with systems understanding, ecosystem understanding, procurement competence and competence in digital tools, methods and user skills.

Surveys show that managers and employees in both the private and public sector lack the skills required to identify and utilise the possibilities technology represents.11

Statistics Norway’s survey of ICT use in the public sector showed that three out of four central government agencies that had tried to recruit ICT specialists in the past year had experienced problems. The corresponding percentage among municipalities is 36 per cent.12 There are major variations, however, in the public sector as regards how many organisations have difficulties finding competent candidates. The need for specialists also seems to increase in step with size. Municipalities with many inhabitants, and central government agencies with many employees, usually try to hire candidates with high ICT expertise.13 In 2019, Ulstein municipality was nominated for the innovation award for its comprehensive innovation work, which included a focus on coding in schools (Box 8.2).

Textbox 8.2 The Ulstein Model

Ulstein was the first municipality in the country to teach all pupils programming. Together with Volda University College, the municipality has created the Ulstein Model, whereby all teachers in the municipality receive training in the use of digital tools and resources in teaching. Møre og Romsdal county authority has supported the technology initiative. The organisation Lær Kidsa Koding (‘Teach kids coding’) has been an important partner in the project.

The Ulstein Model is part of the municipality’s comprehensive investment in innovation and new thinking, for which it was nominated for the 2019 innovation award. The municipality emphasises digitalisation for the future, but also takes innovative approaches in health and care services, technical services and the central administration. Co-creation and dialogue with the public, volunteers, businesses and public agencies are requirements in the project.

Source Ulstein municipality

Because digitalisation takes place across sectors, areas of responsibility and national borders, it creates new dependencies and vulnerabilities that the public authorities need to deal with. Again, competence is key, especially in relation to information security.

8.2 Assessment of the situation

Public agencies must take a strategic approach to competence development and devote attention to competence profiles in connection with both recruitment and employees’ competence development. One of the main goals of the state’s employer strategy is that central government agencies take action to address future skills needs.14

To enable professional practitioners to meet the challenges facing society, it will also be important to further improve the quality of higher education.15 Norway needs to produce graduates who are not only capable of entering the profession as it currently is, but who also have the ability to adapt, to develop further, utilise new knowledge, reflect on their own professional practice and thereby also contribute to knowledge development in their field in the years ahead. Public services are dependent on each other and need to be coordinated in relation to users with complex needs. Students and staff at several higher education institutions have therefore joined forces across disciplines and professions to practise this skill.

The Norwegian Digitalisation Agency and the Norwegian Agency for Public and Financial Management have a number of tools at their disposal that are relevant to innovation. One example is Prosjektveiviseren, a project template for managing digitalisation projects in the public sector. It was not developed with innovation specifically in mind, however, and may therefore require some adaptation. The current offer of guidance, courses and instruments that can foster innovation and innovative work methods is fragmented. In the same way as other policy instruments for public sector innovation, the services are best viewed in conjunction with each other (Chapter 5). Offers of further and continuing education should be developed and presented in a more coherent manner.

The digital strategy One digital public sector emphasises that increased digital competence is about both recruitment and developing the skills of employees and managers. It is difficult to predict what skills we will need in the future. The development has gone from the strong technology focus of the 1980s and 1990s, via digitalisation in the 2000s, where the focus was on improving existing processes with the help of digital technology and data, to the present situation, where the focus is on digital transformation, whereby digitalisation is increasingly integrated in an organisation’s core activities. Future skills are largely about knowing how the organisation can make use of the inherent possibilities technology offers.16

The following types of competence will be needed:

  • Basic digital competence: competence the whole adult population needs to function in education, working life and society in general.

  • Occupational and professional digital competence: that employees have the specific skills they need to do their jobs, including a good understanding of what digitalisation means in relation to the performance of their work.

  • Specialised digital competence: competence in developing new sophisticated solutions – information scientists, ICT security experts, specialists in legal informatics, digital business development etc.

8.3 The way forward

Job relevance in higher education

The Government aims to present its white paper on job relevance in higher education some time in spring 2021. The report will set out four main goals:

  • a stronger connection between the labour market and higher education

  • strengthening new ways of thinking and innovation skills in higher education

  • enhancing the quality of practical training in health and social care programs and teacher education programs

  • better interfaces between the labour market and higher education institutions

One example of how to work on the job relevance of education is the university-municipality partnership in Agder. In partnership with the University of Agder, Kristiansand municipality has taken national responsibility for developing competent child welfare workers and an efficient child welfare service capable of meeting future challenges.

Strengthening of teacher education programs

A lasting strengthening of the teaching profession is important if we are to be well equipped to address future challenges, and knowledge and skills will be increasingly important in this context. Schools and kindergartens help to shape future members of society. They are important agents of change in the public sector, both directly and indirectly. Schools and kindergartens can directly influence processes, ways of communicating and organisation in cooperation with other parties. Schools and kindergartens can also contribute indirectly to innovation by encouraging children to look for new solutions and ways of communicating. These are skills they will take with them into the labour market.

In 2017, the basic teacher education programs (GLU) were elevated to master’s degree level. The GLU reform is a step in the direction of more innovation and more research-driven development of teacher education programs and schools. The programs emphasise how student teachers can contribute to innovation processes relating to the school’s activities and facilitate the involvement of representatives of the labour market, society and the cultural sector. Furthermore, the students will help to further develop schools as an institution for formative education and learning in a democratic, diverse society. It is a goal that teachers graduating from the programs are capable of acting innovatively. In 2019, ten public sector PhD positions were earmarked for teachers (see section 12.1 for a description of the Public Sector PhD scheme). Increasing the number of teachers with a PhD is a long-term measure aimed at strengthening the teaching profession and anticipating changes in society that require high expertise in the public sector.

In 2017, the Government launched a national strategy for teacher education programs (Lærerutdanning 2025, Nasjonal strategi for kvalitet og samarbeid i lærerutdanningene). The strategy was accompanied by an innovation scheme under which kindergartens, schools, municipalities and county authorities can apply for funding to test and evaluate the effect of measures together with researchers. The scheme is part of the Research Council’s Program for Research and Innovation in the Educational Sector (FINNUT). Close collaboration between the teacher education programs and the professional field is the key to joint, mutual development and ensures high quality. The strategy was also followed up through partnerships between the teacher education program and schools and school owners, or kindergartens and kindergarten owners, on clinical testing of high-quality practical training.

Further and continuing education

Employees must be offered continuing and further education to enable them to maintain and update their skills in a life-long learning process. In the most recent long-term plan for research and higher education, the Government therefore announced that higher education institutions are expected to initiate cooperation with service providers on further and continuing education.17

In spring 2020, the Government presented the white paper The Skills Reform – Lifelong Learning (Meld. St. 14 (2019–2020)). The reform has two objectives. The first is that no one’s skills shall become obsolete, meaning that everyone will be given an opportunity to renew and supplement their skills to enable them to work longer. The other is to close the skills gap, i.e. the gap between what skills the labour market needs and what skills employees actually have. The report describes a number of measures aimed at helping tertiary vocational colleges, universities and university colleges to develop flexible further education programs that are in demand in the labour market. Among other things, the Government will invest in competition-based schemes to increase the capacity for further education programs and flexible study programs in the higher education sector. The reform also facilitates increased collaboration between the educational institutions and the labour market on the development of educational provision.

In 2020, Oslo School of Architecture and Design, BI Norwegian Business School, and Design and Architecture Norway (DOGA) opened D-box, the National Centre for Transforming Public Services. D-box is tasked with developing programs that meet the need for continuing and further education among public sector managers and employees (Box 8.3).

Textbox 8.3 D-box – the National Centre for Transforming Public Services

D-box is intended to be a strategic arena for user-centred development and interdisciplinary competence building in the public sector. D-box will meet the need for service innovation across disciplines and sectors, using design methodology as a key approach.

The centre aims to provide authorities and managers with the knowledge required to make evidence-based decisions on user-centred innovation, and to make expedient use of the market and research communities. D-box aims to be a driving force in the field of service innovation at the national and international level, and to help to increase the capacity for innovation.

Source Design and Architecture Norway (DOGA)

Digital competence

A lack of skilled labour will be a challenge in Norway in the time ahead, both a lack of people of working age, especially in rural areas, and lack of the right expertise. One of the most important projects for the Government in the next four years is therefore a competence reform for the labour market. The goal is to ensure that everyone is qualified for a labour market that is changing in step with digitalisation and new technology. Digital competence in particular may become a major challenge, and higher education institutions play a key role in this context.

As part of the Government’s national AI strategy, the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) has developed a Norwegian version of the online course Elements of AI. The Government encourages all public agencies to let their employees take the course, and will make it available on the central government’s joint digital learning platform. Municipal and county authorities also have access to the course through the learning platform KS Læring. The Government will develop a strategy for digital competence in the public sector. KS and other relevant parties will be involved in this work.18

Digitalisation is also a key instrument for raising the quality and relevance of research and higher education, and ensuring that the higher education sector is equipped to realise the ambitions in the long-term plan. The digital strategy for the higher education sector (Digitaliseringsstrategi for universitets- og høyskolesektoren for 2017–2021) sets a clear direction for this work. The Government expects all higher education institutions to raise digitalisation to the strategic level and to develop goals and measures for the digitalisation of research and education. In addition to digital competence of relevance to the field, students must acquire more general ICT and digital judgement skills that are relevant across disciplines. Digitalisation makes it possible to carry out research more efficiently and creates new opportunities for developing methods, cooperation and development in new and existing fields. Digitalisation also provides opportunities for sharing research data and results in new ways, although it also gives rise to new challenges relating to data security and correct processing of data.

8.4 The Government’s aims

To achieve innovation, public agencies must recruit and develop skills that foster innovation, and education must be adapted to innovation and the needs of the labour market.

The Government will:

  • help to ensure that study programs and further and continuing education leads to increased innovation competence. The Government expects educational institutions to take the initiative til collaborate on further and continuing education.

  • present a white paper on job relevance in higher education in spring 2021

  • continue with and develop StimuLab and encourage exploration of innovative working methods in the public sector

  • develop a strategy for digital competence in the public sector in cooperation with KS

  • encourage public agencies to let their employees take the online course Elements of AI, which is now available in Norwegian.



NOU 2018: 2 Fremtidige kompetansebehov I – Kunnskapsgrunnlaget (‘Future skill needs I – Evidence basis’ – in Norwegian only)


Fafo (2013) «Saman om» kompetanse og rekruttering – en kunnskapsstatus (‘Together for competence and recruitment – a knowledge status’ – in Norwegian only). Fafo report 2013:3


Report No 4 to the Storting (2018–2019) Long-term plan for research and higher education 2019–2028


Menon (2018) Nåtidsanalyse av innovasjonsaktivitet i kommunesektoren (‘Present-day analysis of innovation activities in the local government’ – in Norwegian only). Publication 88/2018.


OECD (2019), Public Value in Public Service Transformation: Working with Change, OECD Publishing, Paris


Government Offices of Sweden. Strategic foresight


Ministry of Local Government and Modernisation (2019) Scenarioer for offentlig sektor i 2040 (‘Scenarios for the public sector in 2040’ – in Norwegian only). Report


Norwegian Tax Administration




IT in practice, 2018


Statistics Norway (2019) Offentlig sektor sliter med rekruttering av IKT-spesialister (‘Public sector struggling to recruit ICT specialists’ – in Norwegian only). Article


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


Ministry of Local Government and Modernisation (2020) Arbeidsgiverstrategi 2020–2023 for det statlige tariffområdet (‘Employer strategy 2020–2023 for the collective agreements in the state sector’ – in Norwegian only)


Report No 4 to the Storting (2018–2019) Long-term plan for research and higher education 2019–2028


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


Report No 4 to the Storting (2018–2019) Long-term plan for research and higher education 2019–2028, section 5.3


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

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