Finnish & Estonian Public Service Top Executives Boot Camp at Urban Mill: Innovation needs government – Government needs innovation

Finnish and Estonian public sector leaders workshopped intensively in a two day boot camp held 3-4 March at Urban Mill in Aalto University Campus area in the heart of Espoo Innovation Garden.

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Virpi Einola-Pekkinen, Head of development of Ministry of Finance in Finland blogs here about the ongoining cross border co-operation in management development between Finland and Estonia:

The idea of a joint development program for Public Service Top Executives derived from a situation where Estonian and Finnish government institutions responsible for executive development recognized the similarities in the core challenges their Top Executives were facing as well as the expectations they had to meet. In a context where we are facing the challenges of the “New Normal” characterised by slow economic growth, high unemployment, higher volatility and level of uncertainty, Estonia and Finland need to prepare for new challenges by maximising their limited human and financial resources and accelerating innovation in public service.

Whole-of-Government Approach is needed in both countries

According to the OECD public governance reviews of Estonia (2011) and Finland (2010), one of the key challenges for public administration of both countries is to achieve a single government approach and work together with a society as a whole. The future success depends largely on the ability to tackle cross-ministerial challenges. Hence, strategic planning and finding innovative approaches in everyday work should cross the areas of responsibility.

WP_20150303_001However, cutting the traditional administrative and sectorial boundaries and replacing them with collaborative bridges with other organisations, requires a change in organisational culture and guides the leaders of public administration to work in new ways. A whole-of-government approach requires a new level of cooperation and collaboration across the public administration as well as between other stakeholders. Public sector needs its leaders to initiate the desired changes, come up with new ways of cooperation and together create a culture that would make innovation happen. As the whole-of-government approach is set as a priority both in Estonia and Finland, also the current development program aims to encourage the horizontal co-ordination and collaborative leadership in the process of innovative policy design and implementation.

Public Sector as a Platform of Innovation

Challenges and problems faced in our societies cut across all boundaries – attitudinal, professional and especially administrative boundaries. We need new solutions to the “wicked problems” and forward looking strategies combined to agile ways of acting. Increasing the “government as enabler” – mentality is critical in order to deal with the challenges we are facing. However, it requires changes in the mindset of many current public sector executives. Here, the ability to stimulate innovation and sustain it is essential to achieve the desired results.

In a case of Estonia, the size of a private sector is very small and largely in the hands of foreign capital. Hence, there is a great need for the public sector to be “the engine of innovation” while encouraging the public servants to become “the future designers with entrepreneurship –attitude”.

In Finland it has long been recognized that ministries remain too detached and isolated from one another, without sufficient coordination or cooperation. While resources are decreasing there seems to be quite a strong aim to work more closely as a team, and to find the most appropriate new solutions together.

Building Innovation Capacity

While innovation has become a core driver of performance in public sector, we still need to build innovation capacity. We need to improve the flexibility and responsiveness of our public administrations to realize our states’ strategic objectives. Our Top Executives have to be well prepared for today’s as well as tomorrow’s challenges and have the necessary set of competencies to tackle those issues as well as set an example to the rest of civil servants.

To understand the global landscape in which we act, to make a systematic evaluation and define one’s present need are the critical competences of any top executive, especially in the context of innovation management. To grasp what specifically is happening and why requires a better understanding of world trends and reasons behind them as well as understanding local context.

In order to increase the strategic agility and support innovation capacity in Public Sector, the Top Executives would also need to take a better advantage of the available Foresight and support the “Foresight culture” and “Out of box” –approach” so that people would be better prepared for both positive and negative effects of socio-economic development and organisations would be better able to react to changes with new kind of solutions. Also, new networks would let knowledge and new ideas flow more freely across borders, which is vital for innovation.

In a context where we are facing the challenges of the “New Normal” characterised by slow economic growth, high unemployment, higher volatility and level of uncertainty, Estonia and Finland need to prepare for new challenges by maximising their limited human and financial resources and accelerating innovation in public service.

Challenges that our public sectors share both in Finland and Estonia are increasingly systemic and unprecedented. While the key to further success lies in our own ability to find and implement innovative solutions, wicked problems cannot be solved with yesterday´s tools. Public sector needs start up –attitude, skills to identify potential barriers to innovation and courage to think and act in a new way.

We think it is meaningful to face the complexity of the challenges together. Working together maximizes our limited resources (human and financial) and gives us better possibilities to accelerate innovation in public services. That is why Finnish and Estonian governments have started a process of elaborating and implementing a joint development programme for Estonia’s and Finland’s public sector top executives. With a powerful development program, we aim to provide the public sector top executives an inspiring learning experience with necessary tools to take their next step in seizing emerging opportunities and fostering innovation.

Innovation is a skill and it can be learnt. Realising the potential of innovation means understanding which factors are most effective in creating the conditions for innovation to flourish. With this powerful development program, we aim to help the public sector top executives to take their next step in seizing emerging opportunities and fostering innovation in the society.

More information: Virpi Einola-Pekkinen, Head of development, Ministry of Finance, Finland, virpi.einola-pekkinen@vm.fi

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