Press release

More than a hackathon: Open Social Innovation offers leaps in innovation for public administration

Researchers from Hertie School and Leuphana University present findings from collaborative experiment.

Berlin, 25 January 2022. Climate change, the COVID-19 crisis or affordable housing – many social challenges are both so urgent and complex that public administrations cannot tackle them alone. This is where Open Social Innovation (OSI) comes in. Researchers at the Hertie School and Leuphana University have released a new report on how OSI can help public administrations innovate.

Their findings are based on a real-time investigation of the digital collaborative event UpdateDeutschland and its subsequent four-month implementation programme. Using OSI, Germany’s public administration can identify and solve complex problems by bringing top officials, civil society, academia and business together, say organisational scholars Prof. Johanna Mair from the Hertie School and Prof. Thomas Gegenhuber from Leuphana University.

Based on their observations of UpdateDeutschland, they identified four key ways that OSI helps address such problems. First, it creates new initiatives out of many perspectives. Second, it strengthens existing initiatives because people from different fields contribute their knowledge. Third, the joint exchange between citizens and the state promotes alliances and brings attention to a problem. Fourth, OSI strengthens the effectiveness of political solutions on the ground.

How OSI provides momentum on the ground

Collaboration requires infrastructure so citizens and administrations can work closely together, the researchers say. For UpdateDeutschland, this took the form of digital networks and online platforms, coordinated by the nonprofit ProjectTogether. Also, innovation occurs mainly when citizens and administrators have the broadest possible expertise on a problem and engage in direct dialogue. That is why OSI needs mentors who provide support in methodology and moderate between the parties. According to the Learning Report, an open attitude and financial support from public administration are also helpful.

Johanna Mair, Professor of Organization, Strategy and Leadership at the Hertie School, says: "Open Social Innovation is an important toolbox for citizen-centred politics. By providing research support for UpdateDeutschland, we can show how Open Social Innovation can help the state and society find collaborative solutions to pressing contemporary issues. Up to now, administrative structures have not been geared to this ad-hoc action involving citizens."

Mair notes that OSI is not without critics, as some say the state is shirking its responsibility in letting citizens address problems first. “But the state has the resources to scale up ideas,” she says. “For example, when tried-and-tested solutions are rolled out via public services. Our accompanying research on UpdateDeutschland has shown that Open Social Innovation has tremendous potential precisely when civil society and the state are partners."

In Hamburg, for example, the logic behind project funding applications was examined and adjusted using the process behind UpdateDeutschland. Civil society initiatives can now apply for funding that focuses on solving a problem rather than simply ticking off predefined funding criteria.

Update: Event Recording and Statement by Federal Government

On 31 January, Johanna Mair and Thomas Gegenhuber presented their research findings in a launch event. The event recording (in German) can be found here.

In an official statement from the German Chancellory, its head Wolfgang Schmidt supports the UpdateDeutschland initiative. The statement can be found here.

Under the auspices of the German Chancellery and initiated by the non-profit organisation ProjectTogether, UpdateDeutschland publicly called for submissions of both societal challenges and approaches to solving them in February 2021. In a 48-hour sprint in March 2021, citizens from across German society came together in the digital space. Together, they organised the approximately 600 challenges into groups and contributed new and existing ideas to solve them. In a subsequent four-month implementation program, the participants further developed the solutions and piloted them together with partners from municipalities, states, and the federal government. Find out more here:

The Hertie School in Berlin prepares exceptional students for leadership positions in government, business, and civil society. The school offers master’s, doctoral and executive education programmes distinguished by interdisciplinary and practice-oriented teaching, as well as outstanding research. Its extensive international network positions it as an ambassador of good governance, characterised by public debate and engagement. The school was founded in 2003 by the Hertie Foundation, which remains its major funder. The Hertie School is accredited by the state and the German Science Council.