From ordering a taxi via an app to streaming a movie on the go, we have become accustomed to seamless, digitally-enabled interactions for everything we do. Once the domain of only the most forward-thinking and innovative companies, these types of services have become so widespread that we now expect the same level of engagement with every organisation, including government. So how can public service organisations find inspiration to meet citizens’ fast-changing needs? One place to look is start-ups.

There are plenty of examples of governments creating the conditions and incentives to help start-ups thrive in order to boost economic growth. But is there a way for public service organisations to learn from how start-ups innovate and operate? Can they apply those lessons to how they create new personalised interactions and experiences for citizens?

The answer has to be an overwhelming ‘yes’. However, it’s clear that governments cannot and should not try and adopt start-up culture wholesale. The start-up mantra to ‘move fast and break things’, for example, doesn’t sit comfortably with the public service imperative to operate reliably and maintain trust. The universal service obligation, too, means many public service organisations can’t simply pick and choose the customers they want to focus on as start-ups can.

But while these are clear differences, they shouldn’t be seen as a reason for sticking with the status quo. There are many ways that public service organisations can learn from and work with startups to drive innovation and deliver services that can meet citizens’ fast-changing expectations. There are three key ways I believe public service organisations can leverage a start-up mindset.

The first point to consider is the systems that public services are built on. Public service organisations’ core systems are often unwieldy, expensive to maintain, slow to change and built on technology principles from a decade or more ago. That makes it very difficult to offer on-demand, personalised services to citizens. While ripping out and starting from scratch is in most cases out of the question, there are opportunities to incrementally adopt new and future technologies. For example, taking a microservices approach to modernising systems can allow public service organisations to become more agile and dynamic by implementing new technologies as an ‘add-on’ to their core systems.

The second point to address is that governments need to drive innovation. Rather than relying exclusively on developing ideas internally, by opening themselves up to operate in broader ecosystems, public service organisations can instead harness start-ups’ creativity and innovation. Take Public, for example. It’s connecting public service organisations with start-ups to find new ways to deliver digital services. From home care to connected health and cyber security to smart street furniture, Public is helping governments to enhance citizen services across the board.  Or look at Citymapper, an integrated urban navigation app using open data provided by city authorities that enables city dwellers to plan their journeys. In London, for example, it’s estimated that Citymapper is installed on half the smartphones in use.

Lastly, public service organisations should empower their workers with new technology and embed innovative thinking in the workplace. We know from our recent Technology Vision survey that 65% of public service leaders think their employees are more digitally mature than their organisation, resulting in a workforce “waiting” for the organisation to catch up. Part of start-ups’ success can be attributed to encouraging their employees to identify business problems and giving them the tools to come up with solutions. Supporting the workforce to challenge processes and think outside the box not only increases employee satisfaction but also very often improves results for end users.

By building agile systems, partnering within ecosystems and empowering workers, public service organisations can channel the innovative qualities of start-ups in their own environments. Taking this approach will allow more personalisation and on-demand services, resulting in better experiences for citizens.

Brody Buhler

Managing Director – Consulting, Post & Parcel

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