Open Social Innovation Promises to Spark Innovation in the Area of Public Administration

There are some challenges that are too complex for public administration services to manage alone; this is where Open Social Innovation comes in.

Professor Thomas Gegenhuber
Professor Thomas Gegenhuber

Climate change, the coronavirus pandemic, social tensions – public administration services are experiencing many pressing, complex, and challenging issues that are difficult to manage alone. Open Social Innovation has been designed to help. Together with Johanna Mair (Hertie School), JKU researcher Thomas Gegenhuber is taking a closer look at the UpdateDeutschland program supported by the German Federal Chancellery to explore just how this method could help state institutions in particular, especially when it comes to required transformation processes.

The program involves forums and procedures aimed at identifying and solving problems. The process not only involves top officials, but also representatives from civil society as well as representatives from science, academia, and the business community. Organizational scientists Prof. Johanna Mair (Hertie School/Stanford University) and Prof. Thomas Gegenhuber (JKU) are exploring just how these kinds of innovation processes work and how they can be successful. Their learning report is based on experiences and observations collected from one of the most well-known examples of open social innovation: a four-month program about the hackathon UpdateDeutschland.

Inclusion Instead of Exclusion: How Taking Part in Innovation Processes Works
The scientists’ Learning Report shows that having a communication structure helps citizens and administrators work more closely together. In regard to UpdateDeutschland, the online platform, Slack, was used for communication purposes and the NGO ProjectTogether was involved to coordinate the process. Innovation comes about when the involved citizens and administrators possess broad expertise in regards to a problem and have the opportunity to engage in direct dialog with one another. Innovation processes, such as Open Social Innovation, work best when supported by mentors who provide a more methodological support system and can act as mediators between the different parties. According to the Learning Report, an open approach and financial support provided by the administration is also helpful.

Thomas Gegenhuber, head of the Sustainable Transformation Management Lab at LIT, remarked: "Open Social Innovation is an important toolbox to support citizen-centered government. By academically supporting the UpdateDeutschland program, we can show just how Open Social Innovation can help the state and the community find collaborative approaches to address solutions, particularly when it comes to current, pressing issues. Up until now, current administrative structures were not designed for this type of ad-hoc action involving citizens. This model has great potential in Austria."

In response to criticism that the state is dodging responsibility, Gegenhuber argues: "I can initially understand why because citizens are often the first to address a problem. However, the state has resources to scale ideas. Our supporting research regarding UpdateDeutschland has shown that when civil society and the state are partners, open social innovation processes gain strong momentum."

In Hamburg, for example, this policy application was used to review and modify the rationale pertaining to funding applications. Civil society initiatives can now also apply to fund programs that focus on solving a problem rather than just simply checking off pre-defined funding criteria in an effort to find a solution.