New policy brief evaluates how Open Social Innovation can expedite solutions to urgent public policy problems

Johanna Mair and Thomas Gegenhuber draw lessons from the German government’s #WirvsVirus hackathon.

The COVID-19 crisis has sharpened the focus on public policy challenges in Germany, such as the need to accelerate digitalization and make its public administration more citizen oriented. A new policy brief by Johanna Mair, Hertie School Professor of Professor of Organization, Strategy and Leadership, and Thomas Gegenhuber, Assistant Professor of Digital Transformation at Leuphana University Lüneburg, focuses on innovative ways for public policy makers to generate solutions to societal problems – and at the same time help improve and change processes – using “Open Social Innovation” (OSI).   

Social innovation aims at generating new and valuable products, services, and practices to tackle problems in society. In Open Social Innovation, an open call is issued to all sectors of society (civil society, public sector, private sector) to participate in this process. Both government and civil society can initiate such a call for collective action.  

Mair and Gegenhuber followed and drew learnings from the OSI initiative #WirvsVirus, which was launched in March 2020 by the German government to address the COVID-19 crisis. The initiative was centred around the results of a two-day hackathon, in which more than 28,000 people developed more than 1500 ideas to tackle public problems related to the coronavirus pandemic. Of those, 150 projects were selected for a six-month implementation programme.  

In their policy brief, Mair and Gegenhuber provide key recommendations and lessons for OSI projects, after following the #WirvsVirus project from hackathon through implementation. According to the researchers, #WirvsVirus offered potential solutions for better crisis management and lessons for Open Social Innovation in general. They found that Germany needs to improve the “enabling conditions” for future initiatives by creating an “Open Social Innovation ecosystem” that could provide recommendations on how to best modernise Germany’s public administration. 

As learning partners of #WirvsVirus, the research team tracked the process in real-time over the time it took place. In addition to regular exchanges with the #WirvsVirus organisers, the researchers conducted 200+ semi-structured interviews with teams, organisers, mentors, supporters, and political and civil society actors involved in the project. The team participated in community calls, observed jury decisions, funder meetings, and analysed documentation related to the planning and strategic approach of the hackathon.  

The research project is endorsed by the German Chancellery and this part of the research project is being supported by the Vodafone Institute for Society and Communications

Read the full policy brief in English here.

Read the full policy brief in German here, and a shorter summary here.
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Views expressed by the author/interviewee may not necessarily reflect the views and values of the Hertie School.