Did you make it to the Impact conference? This annual event is about innovation and digital economy, with conversations about the future of health, finance, education, space… and of course governments.

CitizenLab headed to Krakow to talk about innovation in the #civictech and #govtech sectors, and we had some very interesting conversations about citizen participation and e-democracy along the way. Here are our top 5 govtech take-aways!

1. In governments, change has to come from within

This first point came from Robyn Scott (co-founder and CEO, Apolitical) and Katy McNeil (head of Intrapreneurial Leadership Programme, Civtech Scotland). Shiny technology and smart tools aren’t enough: if you want to change governments, you have to start by changing mentalities. Governments are understandably risk-averse, and this is standing in the way of change. In order to adopt a more innovative mindset, they need to accept failure and learn how to take risks.

There is also a clear need for more training and more support in order to help civil servants address the new challenges that they face. According to a recent Apolitical study, 42% of civil servants consider that they have insufficient or inadequate training resources. The solution? Training, training and more training. Dr Ayesha Khanna shared how the government of Singapore offers financial aids to government employees and interested citizens who wanted to learn how to code.

2. Find the bright spots

It’s not all grim and sad, pointed out Robyn Scott: some areas and teams within governments are being fantastically innovative. Governments should learn to celebrate these successes, and give these teams more space to innovate, try things and fail.

Shining a light on these bright spots and showing that innovation is within reach will help change the general mindset, and emulate other teams. Linking back to our first point, Scott pointed out that it’s also important to be transparent about the failures that happened along the way.

3. Re-think procurements

Heavy procurement systems are preventing start-ups from helping governments innovate. Moreover, as Katy McNeil pointed out, how can governments procure for something they don’t even know exists?

Justyna Orlowska shared how GovTech Polska was proactively engaging in conversations with start-ups and tech companies to help foster innovations. In order to stimulate innovations, it also organises open challenges where companies can apply and submit new ideas.

4. Listen to your citizens

This one is right up our alley. Change can’t just come from the top: in order to be relevant for citizens, innovation must also come from citizens. Governments should strive to invest citizens in decision-making and give them a voice.

Interestingly, two approaches were debated here. On the one hand, Breandán Knowlton from the UK’s Government Digital Services talked about the need for thorough user research and testing to make sure that innovation responded to real-world problems. On the other hand, Katy McNeil from CivTech Scotland mentioned citizen participation and giving citizens a voice.

In our mind, these approaches are complementary. User research can provide strong grounds to base projects on, but citizen participation allows empowerment and strengthens the democratic process.

5. Be ready to adapt your work processes

This was a useful reminder from Ott Velsberg, Estonia’s Chief Data Officer. Unless governments have the capacity to quickly respond to issues raised by citizens, digital participation projects aren’t fully living up to expectations. Citizen participation is forcing teams within administrations to co-operate more, be more flexible and react more quickly than they’re used to. These processes are not always easy, but they’re shaping the government of tomorrow.

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