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Extending the principles of open innovation to the public sector is a particularly important transition. Public bodies are significant spenders on products and services and yet are often distant from the most dynamic processes in our economy. Dennis Hilgers and Frank Piller look at the wider benefits of an open public service in an extended web article downloadable on Innovation Management. The authors raise some of the most important issues below.

The logic of an open public sector

Terms, such as co-creation, mass customization, interactive value creation, or open innovation represent the increasing success of new (predominantly Internet-based) practices and give evidence that the general public can constitute a source of enhanced innovation. In many countries the public sector has been seeking to reform itself, anyway. Do the open innovation methods, broadly understood provide a way?

An essential purpose of so-called “new public management” reform of the past 20 years was to understand the citizen as a customer of public services, and to orient the organization processes toward the clients’ expectations.

The citizen, or client, should be viewed as a principal and tax payer, yes, but also as customer or user of public services. Alongside this aspect, the e-government reforms during the last few years emphasized the digitalization of administrative processes to improve quality, time, and efficiency opening up entirely new opportunities to redesign organizational structures and procedures, but also in relation to communication with third-parties externally. As a result, many administrations have started to build up a systematic innovation management.

The rise of Citizensourcing in Open Government

Consequently, the question arises whether public management, in terms of “Citizensourcing”, should also include the knowledge and experience of clients, users, and external actors into the public innovation and value creation process: can citizens act as contributor to public tasks that are traditionally performed by an administrative employee (mostly a civil servant)?

After a period of reforms based on customer orientation, is there nowadays a need for more customer/citizen integration, or even a collective value creation between a public administration and its stakeholders that can positively influence the political decision procedure?

Four factors suggest that this change is not only necessary but is also underway and needs to be recognised and improved. Those four factors are:

  • The new technology of the Internet
  • A social revolution in the way we communicate
  • The economic revolution that comes with a new division of labour
  • And a demographic revolution as people with digital ‘in their bones’ – those aged 13 – 30 populate the labour market.

In considering these challenges, the question arises whether the diverse administrations at different regional levels and, in the end, the whole political-administrative system, is ready for this transformation.

Recent literature discusses this topic as “government 2.0”, as a new way of interactively creating public value and moving to a new kind of citizen cooperation by systematically integrating external actors into the process of governing and administrating. Within this context, Barack Obama proclaimed in his first speech to his administration his desire for open government (“A clear commitment changing the way government works with its citizens: Government should be transparent, participatory and collaborative”).

We have identified three key steps along the way to realisation of greater public sector efficiencies through citizen-sourcing:

  1. Transparency
  2. Participation
  3. Collaboration

For reasons of space, in this short article we will only refer to one of these. However the full logic and detail of this process can be found in the Extended Web Article:

Participation in open government, or Goverment 2.0

Specific characteristics of these new participation processes are, for example:

  • People’s budget: Active citizen integration into budget decisions of the city council and consolidation concerning the utilization of funds. This includes discussions about objectives regarding the budget allocation, the intended outputs and outcomes, and the collaborative measurement of results by common evaluation.
  • Virtual town hall meetings: (or so-called “Mini-Publics”): On e.g. citizens are included into the process of public decision-making by discussing problems concerning all political areas, and presenting the discussion results to the political decision-makers.
  • Political agenda setting: Party programs, public strategies, and mission statements are increasingly created in publicly and participatory.
  • Political monitoring: Monitoring of politicians and their misbehavior in the sense of a “representative watching”.


The move to Open Government is a logical step for citizens and Government bodies.  It is, in many ways, a chicken whose egg has already hatched. However, all organisations, public and private, need a process or a roadmap to show the way. Without it change feels like a descent into chaos. We set out this roadmap in the Extended Web Article and welcome comments and feedback on this – the better the roadmap, the quicker and smoother the journey.

By Dennis Hilgers & Frank T. Piller

About the authors

Ass.-Prof. Dr. Dennis Hilgers did his doctorate at the University of Hamburg and was head of research group at the chair of Technology and Innovation Management at the RWTH Aachen. Since 2009, he is Professor for Public Management at the University of Hamburg, and is concentrating on public sector reforms, particularly with strategies of public innovation management, e-government, and public financial management.

Prof. Dr. Frank T. Piller is professor for Technology and Innovation Management at the RWTH Aachen and co- director of the Smart Customization Group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), USA, where he worked at the MIT Sloan School of Management from the end of 2004 till the beginning of 2007 (