Stakeholders & Beneficiaries
The amount of stakeholders and beneficiaries of GovLab Arnsberg is small. The main stakeholder of GovLab Arnsberg is the regional president. As he initiated GovLab Arnsberg, he is particularly interested in its activities and success and offers the employees at GovLab Arnsberg continuous support. The other important stakeholder group within the administration of GovLab Arnsberg are the front-line employees that deliver the services. The employees of GovLab Arnsberg perceive them as experts and value the knowledge they incorporate into the co-creation process. Furthermore, to carry out their projects, the employees at GovLab Arnsberg collaborate with actors outside the regional administration. Those are civil society organizations, private firms and individual citizens. Those collaborations are vital for the success of GovLab Arnsberg’s projects. For example, one civil society association payed for a chatbot-software that was needed to develop a chatbot for the regional administration’s website. Besides the private firms and civil society organization, GovLab Arnsberg also tries to interact with living labs from private sector organizations to share knowledge and information, that enables the employees of GovLab Arnsberg to improve the processes of the living lab continuously.
The co-creation process of GovLab Arnsberg consists of two parts: idea generation and idea development. The process of idea generation is designed in a bottom-up way, as public servants are invited to submit ideas. For example, they can contact the employees working at GovLab Arnsberg and describe processes that need to be re-designed. One respondent described, that they have received over 100 messages from public servants with ideas for processes that could be improved. Therefore, the process of idea generation is open, as every public servant can submit ideas. Besides the individual submission of project-ideas by public servants, the employees of GovLab Arnsberg also act proactively and look for processes or services that could be redesigned. The ideas submitted by the public servants or the GovLab employees themselves are turned into improvements through design-thinking workshops hosted by the employees of GovLab Arnsberg. The participants in these workshops are internal users, for example, frontline employees or external users that receive a service. The design-thinking process is split in two parts: in the first part, user research is conducted. The participants are asked to adopt a perspective of users to identify user needs and problems. From the information received, personas are developed that depict the needs of users. In the second part the participants create user journeys to analyse the process or service in question. From those user journeys a prototype is developed. The co-creation process is driven by the participants of the individual workshops. The role of the GovLab Arnsberg employees is to facilitate the workshops by moderating the discussions and providing resources.
Digital Transformation Process
In GovLab Arnsberg, the co-creation processes primarily aim at re-designing processes and services and the respondents did not mention that they are automatically digitized. However, the employees of GovLab Arnsberg are aware, that digitizing processes might help them to achieve the goals of being more efficient and effective. So, they opt for digital solutions when they can. For example, they developed a chatbot to improve the website of the regional administration. As one respondent described, the chatbot had several positive effects, as they enabled the administration to collect data on how users use the website and those additional data helped them to improve the website even more. However, those benefits of digitizing services and processes are small, as GovLab Arnsberg had, at the time of data collection, no plans to upscale the developed solutions to other agencies. Instead, the initial goal was to develop small-scale solutions that help to convince sceptics within the organization that GovLab Arnsberg can be valuable to the whole organization.
Results, Outcomes & Impacts
There are several results produced by GovLab Arnsberg. The first one are prototypes of re-designed processes and services. Those can be, for example, the chatbot that was described above. Besides the benefits of collecting data and improving the website as making it more user-friendly, the successful re-design of services and processes might also lead, in the long-term, to a change in the organizational culture. This is the case, because the employees of the regional administration changed their attitudes towards GovLab Arnsberg. In the beginning, they were skeptical and interest in the workshops offered by GovLab Arnsberg was low. This changed after the first projects of GovLab Arnsberg were successful. Besides a change in mindset of the frontline employees, also top-level employees changed their mindset about innovation practices in the regional administration. The change in mindset occurred, as GovLab Arnsberg demonstrated that developing (digital) solutions must not necessarily be costly but can be achieved with small changes in the administrative set up. However, the long-term impact of the initiation of GovLab Arnsberg cannot be assessed with the data collected, as GovLab Arnsberg was in an experimental stage at the time the data was collected. Instead of producing long-term solutions, they focused at experimenting with different methods.
Challenges & Bottlenecks
There are three main challenges of GovLab Arnsberg: legal challenges, the mindset of public servants as well as the skills of individual employees. The legal framework was a challenge for GovLab Arnsberg, as they limit the freedom and room for maneuver. For example, the implementation of the chatbot was hindered by the existing laws, as they could not use a cloud-based service which limited the amount of software to implement the chatbot. Furthermore, the laws limit the creativity at design-thinking workshops as the public servants were concerned to break laws when they were re-designing existing processes and services. Therefore, public servants are careful when thinking about the use of technology to implement new or re-designed services. The second challenge is the mindset of individual public servants. At the beginning, some public servants did not allow their employees to participate at design-thinking workshops as they did not see the advantages. This demonstrates that some public servants are risk-averse. The risk-aversion is also seen in the interpretation of the existing laws, described in the paragraph above. The third challenge is the skillset of the employees of the regional administration. Most of the employees receive extensive legal training in their education, so the main skill of public servants is to interpret laws. What is missing are skills to assess and evaluate technologies. This is problematic, as for the implementation of the prototypes developed within the design-thinking workshops the regional administration needs employees can implement those technologies at large scale.
Transferability & Replicability
As GovLab Arnsberg was only a year old at the time the data was collected, it was still in an experimental stage and scaling up the prototypes developed was not an initial goal. Therefore, there are only hints in the data on how the results of GovLab Arnsberg can be transferred to other contexts. However, the strategy of GovLab Arnsberg, that is to be successful on a small scale to convince sceptics and enhance the legitimacy of its actions might be also a strategy that works in other contexts, as the co-creation barriers described earlier are not unique and might be present (to varying extent) in other contexts.
There are three success factors that enabled GovLab Arnsberg to carry out their projects: political support, acting outside organizational hierarchies and provision of material resources. The political support GovLab Arnsberg has enables experimentation at GovLab Arnsberg. The regional president grants them the freedom to experiment with different ideas and make decisions independently. Furthermore, GovLab Arnsberg directly reports the progress to the regional president in regular meetings instead of writing reports. Furthermore, the regional president supports the activities of GovLab Arnsberg which legitimizes the projects of GovLab Arnsberg and makes them immune of criticism stemming from middle managers. The second success factor lies in the organizational arrangement GovLab Arnsberg is embedded in. Formally, GovLab Arnsberg is part of the IT department and from the budget of the IT departments the salaries of the employees are paid. However, the head of the IT department is not involved in the operational business and strategic alignment of GovLab Arnsberg. This leads to faster decision-making processes and contributes independence of GovLab Arnsberg, that is also stemming from the political support. The third success factor is the equipment that enables GovLab Arnsberg to carry out design-thinking workshops. Here, the goal was to provide a room that is visually and physically different from the other offices of the regional administration. For example, the employees bought furniture from Ikea instead of using the official procurement system. This influences the overall atmosphere of the lab and stimulated creative thinking.
From this case study, it becomes evident, that political support is crucial for the labs survival and success. Without the top-level support, GovLab Arnsberg would not have been able to carry out its activities independently. Furthermore, the top-level support enhances the legitimacy of the lab within the regional administration. This freedom is reflected also in the organizational set-up that grants the GovLab freedom from the rigid hierarchical structure that slows down decision-making processes. In addition, the analysis of GovLab Arnsberg has shown that most of the barriers that inhibit the co-creation processes within an administration are deeply ingrained in the regional administration. The organizational culture as well as the mindset and skills of individual employees challenged the co-creation activities of GovLab Arnsberg. However, the analysis has also shown, that those barriers can be overcome, if the initial projects are carried out successfully.