Embedding the culture of innovation – ZOOM IN (PART A)
Would you ever imagine that culture and creative industries have the power to change mindsets within City government and advance public sector innovation?
Kosice 2.0 project aims at elevating the well-being of the citizens of Kosice at large by improving the performance of its City government, increasing its strategic and operational capabilities and advancing its processes and routines of work. Capitalizing on the power of its emerging cultural industry and its contemporary cultural heritage it develops an integrated innovation ecosystem of meticulously designed components that altogether improve the capacity of its municipality to design data-driven, evidence-based, citizen-centric policies.
One of the main pillars of this innovation ecosystem that Kosice 2.0 project aims establishing is associated with the ability to provide opportunities for training, capacity building and peer to peer learning to the different target groups of the project. Three training programs are developed and piloted throughout the 3 years of its implementation. One for municipal officers (Creative City), one for citizens and civil society actors (Cre/active Citizens) and one for the academic community (Creative University). All three of these programs contribute to the creative transformation of the city and enhance the sustainability and progress of the innovation ecosystem that Kosice 2.0 establishes.
The first zoom-in for Kosice 2.0 project takes a deep dive into the development and piloting of the Creative City capacity building program targeted to municipality employees that took place between December 2022 and May 2023 looking it as a model that supports the establishment of a new culture of innovation in the City government context.
Through a series of interviews conducted with members of the organization team, the people involved in the design and delivery of the training program, municipality leadership representatives, participants and external experts this case study examines key questions such as:
- how does a training program for civil servants opt for culture change? what does this culture change mean?
- what could be its main elements?
- what are the challenges faced in the planning and implementation stages?
- how do you move from theory to practice?
- is skills enhancement enough to embed innovation?
- what does it take to see this program becoming a routine?
- what does an impactful capacity training program should look like and what are the top tips to potential replicators
PART A: Vision and planning
Creative City program was piloted for a period of 6 months and comprised 3 main modules: (1) the “Design Thinking” module that aimed at opening up new user-centric approaches and methods when designing services (2) the “Value for Money” module that attempted to introduce participants to a new analytical mindset when planning their actions or evaluating decisions (3) the “Participation“ module that focused on why and how to bringing together all relevant stakeholders to collaborate with the local government when piloting urban solutions. A group of around 20 officers from different City departments participated in a series of online and off-line trainings, they tested digital tools of the new era such as the Miro and the Moodle e-learning platform, they engaged in seminars with invited experts, problem solving sessions and real-time field work assignments.
A. Envisioning the transformation of mindsets
Kosice 2.0 project assembles a new innovation ecosystem for the City of Kosice. A newly formed research unit (CXI) staffed by young talents who collect and process data and generate recommendations for its urban authority, numerous opportunities for start-ups and civil society groups to interact with the municipality and explore solutions to pragmatic urban challenges, new tools in the hands of the city services such as the Open Data Kosice which collects, processes and openly shares urban data online.
To meet the requirements and be able to take benefit of this new innovation infrastructure that has been formed, the municipality needs to invest in upgrading its own human resources and capacity as well. Michal Hladký, director of the Creative Industry Kosice (CIKE), author of Kosice 2.0 proposal, who leads this new innovation-based-in-culture initiative, states this quite clearly:
“The basic idea was that if we want to implement any innovation for the municipality then we would also need people on the other side (in the municipality) who can understand the concept, and who can work with us on a peer level. Things like design thinking, value for money, participation, aren’t very common for our local government. So that’s why we decided that if we want to implement an innovative idea like Kosice 2.0, we need to build capacity internally in the municipality side as well…Creative Industry Kosice operates in the realm of innovation for a long time bringing ideas like using hackathons as an innovation tool or delivery of ideas to the City. This is quite extreme in the eyes of a municipal officer. It might be common in other places of the world but here it is not common for our City to open up to the broader stakeholder community and openly discuss challenges or ask from start-ups and creative people to come up with ideas that will address urban problems.”
But more than a training program that would upgrade the skills and capacity of its municipal employees the initiators call for a broader culture change in local government. Michal Hladký adds:
“I would also call it culture change within the municipality. Educational capacity building training programs prepare the soil for some ideas you want to plant so then you have people who could work with those ideas. For instance with the service design approach the idea was that the City would slowly upgrade the palette of the services it provides shifting from what it is obliged to provide to citizens as public authority towards a more citizen-centric approach, understanding the real needs of its citizens, be more proactive but also more agile in optimization, adjustments, implementation of new tools. This mindset is something which does not exist yet in our municipality…We would like also to show that administration workers and officers could take a different approach, become more proactive and make changes within the system. So, we help them to use tools such as design thinking or others with which they can analyze, collect data, create pilots and not to be afraid to use trial and error approach on very small samples of activities and involve different stakeholders in the process as well. This is the process that we want to introduce.”
Changing the mindsets is an ambitious vision and requires a lot of time in order to start witnessing results. “Creative City” was the first pilot capacity training program of its kind and its main aim at the beginning it to create a fertile soil to plant the first seeds:
“At first, they (participant employees) become familiar with us, the topic and the ideas we want to achieve. Then they learn and they probably would like to see also what they learn in practice that should follow up. So, then the projects come as testbeds or at least the tools come. Hackathons, participation, using media arts or art interventions as something which opens up topics either in public space or public services. That is all which needs a ground to be built. If you want to plan the seed you need a fertile soil. That is what I believe the education is for or the capacity for people who work in local government context. (MH)”
B. Designing and testing the pilot
As the ultimate goal for “Creative City” has been culture change and shift of mindsets in public sector, designing, curating the content and organizing the pilot program acquired significant gravity. “Creative City” shouldn’t look like all other typical training modules that one meets in public sector, but it should be a creative-at-heart program that would rather inspire, ignite and engage its participants while prompting curiosity of the City leadership. To design such a program, the CIKE organization team collaborated with high-skilled and experienced external experts coming from high-profile institutions from the academic, business, and public administration environment.
Jana Knežová, Head of the Department of Culture and Tourism at Kosice Self-Governing Region, undertook the overall design of the methodology and the structure of the program. Jana has experience in both academia and public services in practice, her background is public policy and public administration, she had been working for 13 years at the Faculty of Public Administration at the Pavol Jozef Šafárik University in Kosice and during the last 5 years she is leading the Department of Culture and Tourism at Kosice Self-Governing Region. Together with her team she manages 20 cultural organizations in the region like museums, libraries, galleries, theatres, cultural centers. She has been a member of the Creative Industry Kosice board and has been working in the cultural sector for more than 20 years. Designing the program, Jana set high standards from the very beginning:
“Main principle of the training program was to create and implement a unique program that would be different, innovative, impactful and replicable. I created the methodology and this methodology had been very important for its implementation.
Main goal was to achieve a change of mindsets and to give motivation and inspiration to employees in Kosice City. In Slovakia there is not a continuous education for local government employees. There are some kind of regional training centers but they provide courses on basic knowledge and the functioning of local government such as accounting, budgeting, local framework etc. This is the economic and legal minimum. There is a lack of programs that focus on new public management ideas, new quality of public services etc. In my opinion and through my experience I believe that this type of program that focuses on changing mindsets and deals with new approaches on public services is very important in Slovakia.”
To achieve designing a state-of-the-art capacity program, Jana and the Kosice 2.0 team invested in the following six work streams:
1. Mapping the skills and the needs of municipal officers
2. Defining carefully the educational pillars
3. Inviting high-profile lecturers and course leaders
4. Selecting the right participants
5. Making use of contemporary digital tools during the courses
6. Organizing a careful evaluation process during and after the end of the training sessions
01. Mapping skills and needs
The team started with the circulation of an open survey and questionnaires targeted to all 400 municipal officers of the City. Although the team received back not more than 100 answers, it was quite clear that it would be impossible to address a large group of employees since the majority of the staff was lacking basic skills. Mirka Vargová and Denisa Draganovská, project managers at CIKE and Kosice 2.0 project, who co-organized most of the organization for the “Creative City” program, witnessed:
“Most of the City employees do not have the proper education and also don’t participate into educational activities in their field. They have the opportunity to advance their skills with typical training sessions throughout the year but due to work overload they don’t participate at all. It is very important to provide an elementary educational program to the officers from the lower levels of the structure but it is also very important for each employee to have the opportunity to learn something new.”
02. Designing the educational pillars
Having mapped the needs and skill level of the City staff, Kosice 2.0 team worked with their expert Jana Knežová to define the educational pillars of the program:
“We used the following 3 dimensions to design the capacity training program for our City employees: what, for how much and how. We then planned 3 modules to run through the course:
(1) The Design Thinking module which is about what kind of services do we need
(2) The Value for Money module which is about how to deliver those services efficiently
(3) The Participation module which is about how to plan and improve our services together with citizens and stakeholders.
Those 3 pillars are directly connected to the City services and every course had been looking at the City services from a different perspective.” – (JK)
03. Inviting the right course leaders and lecturers
To organize a state-of-the-art educational program the team invested in inviting experienced and inspiring course leaders. For the Design Thinking module, the team invited the Design Thinking Coach and Scrum Master from Deutsche Telekom IT Solutions Slovakia, Aida Némethová. Τhe Value for Money course was led by Eduard Baumöhl, researcher at the University of Economics in Bratislava and president of the Slovak Economic Society with lectures organized by representatives from the National Bank of Slovakia, the Value for Money Unit at the Ministry of Finance the former Director of the Implementation Unit at the Government Office. The course leader of the third Creative City course, entitled Participation, and Participatory Methods was Milota Sidorová and Lenka Kudrnová from the Office of Participatory Planning of the Metropolitan Institute of Bratislava.
04. Picking the right participants
It was not only about choosing the right experts to run the courses of the modules but also about picking the right City officers to participate. Someone would think that a program like “Creative City” would be for everyone in the municipality but as Michal Hladký states, the team thought that it would more valuable to work with people that have the capacity or the will to be the drivers of internal changes in the City government context:
“To start building capacity in the municipality we started selecting specific attitudes and approaches. So we selected the people who we thought they could bring a change and it’s worth to invest in their capacity because they have influence or they could influence certain parts of the public apparatus within the municipality. This is also connected to a peer learning culture as the participants should be able to travel to other cities and see how other local governments are dealing with the same challenges.”
05. Making use of digital tools
One of the main elements of “Creative City” was the use of contemporary digital tools to facilitate the new working methods that were being introduced. The design team invested in Miro platform to run participative courses and enable distributed teams to work together efficiently as well as the Moodle e-learning platform which is an open-source course management system that helped store all material to one place so that they could stay after the end of the program and more employees could have access. Jana Knežová states:
“For this pilot program we recruited experts, we had video lectures, exercises, range of presentations etc. They are all available in Moodle platform and every employee from Kosice City can access to this material. In the digital age face-to-face or combined training are very important. But our Creative City program is developed to become a sustainable program and having the opportunity to use the Moodle platform is helping us in this direction.”
The team found an unexpected accelerator in its effort to embed the use of those tools that were completely new to the City staff: the need to face the pandemic restrictions and work remotely at least at the beginning. Mirka Vargová and Denisa Draganovská testify:
“Covid helped us and speeded up the process as participants had no other option but to work with tools and processes of the new culture, we bring onboard such as the zoom, the Miro boards or the Moodle cloud platform. For example, Miro is a tool which is extensively used by the design thinking approach. That was the start of a new approach for education.”
C. Main challenges faced during the implementation
Applying a bold and innovative idea is never an easy task and faces unexpected challenges at many levels during the phase of implementation. From the very beginning the organizing team of “Creative City” faced difficulties when dealing with the knowledge capacity of City employees that was lower than expected. Mirka Vargová and Denisa Draganovská state:
“Our main goal was to bring an open-minded approach to City officers, help them think outside of the box and be able to work with data and the culture around them. But as there was really a lack of experience around this topic but also lack of experience working with the entrepreneurial sector, it was really hard to accommodate the modules that we thought in the beginning for the capacity training program. So, we made changes to our initial plan.”
In addition, the implementation phase had to deal with both external factors and internal restrictions. Jana Knežová testifies:
“What was the first big challenge that we encountered was when dealing with the pandemic restrictions during the implementation process. We had to reschedule and move the days of the workshops. We had to use the online space more. To ensured that the whole process would run in time and could sustain itself throughout the time plan we decided to use an e-learning platform (Moodle) where we placed all the courses material and video lectures so those could be accessible remotely and help organize online courses when necessary.
We also faced internal challenges. The first was that the staff of Kosice who participated, did not have the right conditions to follow the courses. There was poor technical support, lack of basic equipment (microphones or headphones) or even participants were supporting their job tasks during the courses or meetings were happening in the same room. One participant preferred to stay at home in order to be able to follow the class.”
Unlike the traditional legislative oriented, theoretical trainings that usually public sector staff attends, “Creative City” adopted a learning-by-doing methodology focusing on identified priorities of the city and the real-time challenges that the administration is facing. Although this was a great idea in theory, in practice the team found difficult to coordinate with the City leadership to define those pragmatic challenges as Mirka Vargová and Denisa Draganovská testify:
“Defining the real challenges for City Officials was an issue that we faced during the preparation of the program. It was very difficult to coordinate with the leadership of the municipality to define the pragmatic challenges that the City and its employees are facing. This had been also the case in the beginning of our hackathons and the proof of concept programs where start-ups and citizens groups had to pilot solutions for pragmatic challenges that had to be defined by the municipality. It took us a year to coordinate with City leadership defining the challenges for those programs, but after all it worked and matched very well. It is really difficult in this environment to be able to think strategically when you have to deal with the everyday operational issues.”
D. Top Tips for replicators
Always work with those people who want it. Never impose this on anybody because it will not work. Most of the people do not recognize that they need capacity building. What they recognize it that they have internal drive for change or they would like to achieve something: I want to do my job better, I would like to have a promotion, have impact in the office. – Michal Hladky
Engage the City leadership in the agenda of the training program from the very beginning. They must be involved and must be excited that their employees attend this program. When the employees have no support from the top-level management then they feel disconnected. – Jana Knežová
Include participants from the leadership level. In the first round of pilots, we missed the high-level policy members from the municipality. Still, they are aware of the program’s importance and this activity’s importance and would like to continue developing it and participating in the next round in the future. – Mirka Vargová and Denisa Draganovská
Involve people from different departments so to stimulate cross-sector collaborations and help break down the silos. – Mirka Vargová and Denisa Draganovská
Bring people to a place outside the municipality offices. If they stay in their offices then there is a distraction from every corner. – Mirka Vargová and Denisa Draganovská