A vision for Denmark: An innovative public sector that promotes quality and shared responsibility

22 June 2012 | David Burrows, Managing Director of Government Industry, Europe, Middle East & Africa

Recently I learned about a broad circle of Danish government researchers who developed a framework for a new Danish government policy. The goal of the new policy (Danish language only) is to promote economic, social, political, and environmental sustainability within the country.

It was created to strengthen and revitalize the Danish public sector, to make it more able to solve the central challenges of the country's welfare society, while also safeguarding social cohesion to ensure the private sector's future competitiveness.

I agree with these Danish researchers that a combination of rising demands, continuing fiscal constraints, and a growing number of complex problems in the public sector will be difficult to solve with the same approaches and solutions. As outlined by the researchers, Denmark will need to find a new way forward with solutions that apply increasingly innovative approaches to the areas of public policy, public services, and public regulation. Innovation is rapidly moving to the top of the agenda at all levels of government as it is increasingly recognized as a better alternative to broad budget cuts and a hope that the existing services will hold up. Innovation is the most promising (and arguably now the only) way of improving services, user satisfaction, and motivation of public employees.

In addition, the Danish researchers found that in order to turn public innovation into a permanent, pervasive and systematic activity in the public sector, the country will need to transform the current system of public governance. That includes reforming public organizations to boost accountability and improve value-for-money systems, as well as breaking down silos, mobilizing and engaging more private sector collaborations, enhancing information sharing through function-rich and easy-to-use tools, and developing new forms of innovation management. In short, it is an effort that will involve transforming governance in order to enhance public innovation.

As pointed out by the researchers, the last 20 years of management policy in Denmark have seen a government monopoly on welfare services and community regulation, which will continue to create challenges moving forward. The recommendation, as outlined in the new policy, is a broad solution consisting of market-based competition and utilizing private sector management practices to deal with the challenges of rising service expectations, limited resources, and increasingly complex problems overall.

One of the interesting points is that the new policy is designed to encourage diversity rather than uniformity in the public sector. Diversity is a core value identified to drive innovation. It creates trust-based interactions rather than cost controls; strengthens rather than overrules professional knowledge and experience; promotes interdisciplinary collaboration and citizen involvement rather than competition; and, creates more transparency, openness and democratization in relation to decision-making, case management and outcomes.

Other researcher recommendations include:

  • Better interaction between state, regions and municipalities.
  • Emphasis on the establishment of a partnership network and dialogue-based forms of contract and contract management.
  • Internal rules and value-for-money systems must create meaningful and result-focused management and promote learning, motivation and innovation.
  • The external management practices and tools must increasingly be determined by pragmatic considerations of the situation and nature of the task.
  • Political leadership at all levels strengthened with better opportunities for the citizens.
  • Public leaders continuing the creation of better interactions between political and administrative leaders.
  • Cooperation between public and private partners to help create innovative solutions that can contribute to making public services even better and maybe even cheaper.

On this topic, Margrethe Vestager, the Danish Minister of Economy and the Interior, emphasizes that an increased effort on digitization throughout Denmark is one of the Danish government's primary focuses to promote growth and innovation-and the desire of the new government policy is to realize this effort in the public sector as well.

This new approach to management policy is a refreshing and essential contribution to the debate about the future of public services, and I believe it extends far beyond Demark as an example for other countries to consider. It is a commendable effort to create a new balance between the desire for political and economic governance and the need for better quality, shared responsibility, and development of new and creative solutions and innovations. It will be interesting to watch this Danish initiative unfold.

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David Burrows
Managing Director of Government Industry, Europe, Middle East & Africa

About the Author

David Burrows | Managing Director of Government Industry, Europe, Middle East & Africa

David leads engagement with government customers across EMEA on innovative business strategies using ICT to improve their effectiveness to make a real impact in their communities, regions, and countries.