The Laboratory Brewing Innovation in Chile
Roman Yosif Capdeville, Executive Director of Chile’s Laboratorio de Gobierno, discusses why innovation is crucial to public management in the 21st century.
Governance Matters: As the state agency and innovation lab leading positive disruption since 2015, what role does Laboratorio de Gobierno play within the governance eco-system? What challenges have you faced?
Roman Yosif: Laboratario de Gobierno was established to promote transformation and innovation within the Chilean public sector. We foster the acceleration of a very diverse kind of public sector with our clear vision. Any critical changes that can improve the lives of our people must be co-created, co-produced, and co-implemented hand in hand with the citizens themselves. This type of engagement is a unique paradigm of public sector innovation — not only in terms of the creation or redesign of public services, but also with regard to our public servants.
When leading a co-creative lab of this sort, we have to take a multinational approach in terms of disciplines, cultures, and the backgrounds of the people consulted. We must be evidence-based and drive change based on data, user experience, and the appreciation of trends in the ecosystem.
As a lab, we have the opportunity to take a deep dive into research on innovation. However, I think it’s equally important to focus on implementation. Many labs focus on innovation, on finding solutions, but they neglect the actual execution of the ideas. In 2018, we made structural changes to our business model and governance to ensure that we are really redefining and refining the way a government runs. In this way, we went from being a partner that promotes transformation to one that makes a tangible impact on society.
In building innovation capabilities, which ministries and agencies do you partner with, and how do you drive concrete outcomes?
The latter part of that question is something we ask ourselves all the time. As previously mentioned, in 2018, our lab faced a point of inflection. We were very young (not quite three years in operation) and we faced our first change of command in the government. The President was new, the authorities and ministers were new, and we as a lab were very weak, institutionally, in terms of our innovation model, and how useful we were in terms of actually effecting change and showing perceptible results.
This was an opportunity for us to think about what sort of ‘business-meets-service’ model our lab needed to have in order to be relevant and have real impact.
We devised a bootcamp. The team spent a week delving into who we are (an agency that promotes innovation within the state with demonstrable results) and who our customers are (public sector institutions, and the authorities or civil servants who work within them). Based on this deep reflection on our intrinsic identity, we designed our business model.
Our model offers three services to accelerate public sector transformation for Chile’s citizens. The first service is agile consultancy, which is a mix of some well-known methodologies, and others that take a very practical, local approach, implemented by a multi-disciplinary team. The team is agile enough to understand problems, explore them deeply and then design, co-create, prototype, evaluate, and escalate solutions.
The second service is the public innovators’ network, a decentralisation strategy to instill a new kind of culture in the public sector — and also within the private and social sectors. This network has around 18,000 members, comprising civil servants and people from other sectors who are interested in multi-sector innovation. It is the biggest public innovation network in Chile and perhaps one of the biggest in the world.
Finally, we complement our service model with the public innovation index, a service to measure institutional capabilities. Only national public services can apply and it is 100% voluntary. In our first year, we measured 37 services representing more than 60% of public expenditure, so it’s highly representative of the reality of the Chilean public sector. In the process, we provided customised reports, mentorship, and follow-up programmes — material useful for representatives of these services to improve capabilities year-on-year.
Can you share an anecdote of how the lab has worked effectively with other government organisations?
Together with the Ministry of Healthcare, we designed a new model and value proposition for a national healthcare insurance service that provides services to 85% of the population in Chile. We co-created several digital services, eliminated bureaucracy, and coordinated with other agencies. At the same time, we effectively redesigned systems and structures. The way to implement new processes is to clearly assign roles and be definitive about an organisational chart. We successfully executed the project in six months in an ‘agile’ way with more than 1,000 civil servants working on the project, and with various associations in the mix.
What was really interesting about this transformation was that the people working in the healthcare industry under the Ministry of Health — those who would be affected — were very much engaged in the design and implementation of the new organisational changes. It was very unorthodox, because they had to rethink where they were going to work, with whom, and in what kind of role. This shows the value of giving stakeholders agency, and hence ownership.
Can you share an example of how the agile methodology came into play during the COVID-19 crisis?
When COVID-19 hit, we took on a project to create the biggest employment subsidy programme in the history of Chile, a US$ 200m programme to create one million jobs in six months. And we only had six or seven weeks from start to roll-out. This was extremely challenging because we had to coordinate with eight different agencies and two ministries to think, design, create and deliver in a very co-productive way.
The agile methodology really was about understanding what we call the ‘four labels of change’: strategy, service, operation, and organisation. We did it with the added pressure of the President and the ministers asking for results every two days. We understood that to be effective, a main goal had to be to deliver this program in a very simple, user-friendly way that was digital by default. We have now delivered more than 900,000 subsidies with 80% positive user feedback.
How does the lab acquire its clients? Do you source them directly or do clients look for you to solve specific public sector problems?
It is a mix. When we first started, it was mainly 90% demand-led. Now that we have more experience, and because we better understand the bigger picture of the common challenges that different kinds of public institutions face, we are able to detect opportunities — whether in a political context, or from agendas that various ministries need pushing — and put forward solutions before it gets to the stage where we are called in in a ‘firefighting’ capacity.
Public leaders often say, “you must innovate to address the challenges of our time”. But in reality, there is a lot of firefighting of the same problems time and time again, and innovation is considered last. What is your advice for governments and public offices around the world who wish to encourage more innovation?
Firstly, I would advise them not to create a singular ‘innovation manager’ role, because when such a specialist is put on a pedestal, you are saying to the rest of the organisation, “they are innovating, the rest of us can get on with running the business”. On the contrary, the whole organisation must innovate simultaneously.
Secondly, innovation by its very nature is not clear cut — it’s an evolution. It’s an approach and a tool to reach a destination, through change. So my advice to public sector leaders is to put out your fires innovatively, through mixing experimentation with agility.
To facilitate a new era of thriving, forward-looking public sector institutions, innovation must be at the heart of public management in the 21st century.
Finally, we must measure the impact of each innovative shift. We need to show the more orthodox government practitioners that innovation is not optional. To facilitate a new era of thriving, forward-looking public sector institutions, innovation must be at the heart of public management in the 21st century.
Roman Yosif Capdeville has a degree in commercial engineering from Universidad de Chile and also a certificate on data analytics from MIT. He has worked in various industries, both, within the private and public sector, dealing with innovation challenges and collaborating with several stakeholders. He has led digital startups as well as cultural projects. Since 2014, he has focused his work experience on public sector innovation; as a co-founder and first Deputy Head of the Government of Chile’s “Laboratorio de Gobierno” (LabGob), the first national innovation laboratory for the public sector in Latin America. Capdeville is also an active member of the Innovation Circle Board of ICARE (the Chilean Institute of Company Administration), an expert member of the Chilean National Contest of Innovation AVONNI, fellow member of the Public Sector Strategy Network of Salzburg Global Seminar, and board member of the Executive Committee for the State Modernization in Chile.