Denmark’s take on citizen participation in the public sector (seminar with Christian Bason)

A few days ago I got the honor of being invited to attend a seminar in Bilbao with none otheChristian Basonr than Christian Bason. I was particularly thrilled to meet Christian as his book on co-creating for a better society  is one of the few that attempts to name characteristics of different types of spaces for social innovation and offers quite a long list of different names under which people gather to solve society’s problems through innovative solutions. Christian is also the director of MindLab in Denmark,  a classic example of the spaces for social innovation I am currently interested in, a golden oldie.

Different government officials, researchers and practitioners from the field of social innovation in public services were gathered under the same roof by Mr. Gorka Espiau for two hours under the title “Nuevas formas de participación ciudadana en el sector público. El caso de Dinamarca” or its English equivalent “Redesigning public services : cases, methods, challenges”.

Even though we didn’t gather there so much to look at Mindlab itself but at their work, a few things about the space stuck out. My favorite insight was on the neutral nature of this space, being owned and thus accountable to not one but three different institutions, yet disregarding hierarchy, including everyone and taking all types of knowledge into consideration. Christian presented three stories about the projects they have been working on, from simplifying bureaucracy for small businesses to digital mentoring program for unemployed and revolutionizing the whole education system with a government initiated bottom-up approach. Indeed, it was as interesting as it sounds though these cases are easily accessible on MindLab’s webpage. Some interesting learnings from Christian’s presentation were that it’s difficult to keep true to the space’s mission in terms of really creating long-lasting change, that projects should always be opened to continuous learning and adjustment and my favorite: the point of co-creation is to look around and see who else is doing what you plan to do and think of how we can work together, instead of working on the same idea separately. The latter is actually the reason I am so avid to create this common knowledge base about which are the different types of space for social innovation and what are their components that actually work when it comes to aiding social innovation. Proving that the Basque Country is making its own progresses in terms of citizen-driven social innovation in the public sector, ProsumerLab from San Sebastian presented a case study on the issues citizens face when applying for subsidies for their first child, also offering a list of solutions to be implemented arisen from interactions and conversations and most importantly active listening and empathy. Amaia’s presentation ended with the lessons they learned while working on this initiative such as the importance of front line public servants.

Christian ended the seminar by bringing to our attention the need to find the best way engage with leaders who are prepared to make the most of the approaches and tools we are prepared to offer them, ultimately leaving the audience chewing on larger issues such as if these social innovations are only treating symptoms or superficial challenges in the society or are they aimed towards  something bigger and if so, what is the kind of change we are really striving for and what is the true value that our projects bring? Walking back to the Bilbao’s bus station on the warmest weather I have yet to see, these questions were still lingering in my mind.


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