Understanding the transformation of European public administrations

Specific Challenge

Public administrations are important actors in the European society to deliver public goods and values, from protecting vulnerable people to finding out information on waste collection. They have a complex and varied function, providing essential support, defining rules in a complex society. Due to different historical backgrounds, they are also organised very differently and play different roles across Europe. Today, the continuous improvement of public administrations, public services and policies is at the heart of the agenda of policy-makers. While new organisational structures, concepts and digital tools have contributed to increasing the efficiency, effectiveness, inclusiveness and quality of public administrations, today's societal challenges are ever more complex and inter-linked. Simultaneously, economic and budgetary pressures constrain the public sector, while governments need to renew their legitimacy, addressing the increasing and ever more complex expectations from citizens and businesses. Citizens call for more efficient and accountable use of public funds, meaningful participation in public affairs and for services that are as easy to use and personalised as for example electronic banking. There is a need to find ways that more effectively create public value - related to quality of public service delivery, public sector efficiency, social inclusion and participation, public trust and good governance - in an environment of constant change. Addressing these complex issues requires holistic responses, which in turn call for the transformation of public administrations and its role in society.

Effective collaboration across government departments and with non-governmental actors is essential to good governance. It requires working across portfolio boundaries to jointly achieve integrated responses to the issues of policy development. In addition, effective collaboration with societal actors in public service delivery and policy-making can help governments improve their ability to address user needs and innovate their problem solving capacity. ICT is a key enabler to facilitate this. Effective engagement with societal actors can help unlock societal assets, thereby easing the resource needs on governments, allow new services and new businesses to be born and help citizens to actively participate in the decisions that affect their lives. It allows them to be involved in the co-creation of services, including their design and delivery, as well as in finding solutions to societal challenges[[United Nations eGovernment Survey 2014]]. Collaboration, sharing and re-use between public administrations can help reduce administrative burden, waste and duplication and drive efficiency.

This calls for innovative and collaborative mechanisms with new institutional arrangements, leadership and human resources’ capacities and structures for greater collaboration among government agencies and departments and with other actors. It requires reflecting upon the likely changes in people’s expectations about their relationships with governments, their role and their ability to deliver public value - and this calls governments to re-examine their governance approaches and strategies[[OECD Recommendation of the Council on Digital Government Strategies, 2014]]. It requires understanding the legal, political and cultural aspects of this transformation and prepare for the necessary organisational, administrative, technical human resource and legal changes to link departments internally together, but also to effectively engage with users, citizens, businesses, social partners, civil society organisations, non-profit organisations, social enterprises, communities and all those who want to interact. It raises questions about how governments can organise themselves around user expectations, needs and associated requirements, rather than their own internal logic and needs. How can they create an open environment and ecosystem, where public administrations make tools supported by ICT, assets, data, information and resources available for re-use, invite all actors to collaborate within clear frameworks? How can governments still they remain accountable for public value generation? How can co-creation and collaboration transform the way public and collective issues are explored and how services and policies are designed, produced and delivered? Which role can professional communicators, e.g. journalists, play in this process? What is the impact of different country contexts? What sectors of public policy are potentially the most concerned by this transformation? What new rules and standards, organisations, resource allocation, institutional capacities are needed? Measured impacts, recommendations and lessons can inform policy-makers' judgement on whether and how they would be able to embark on the transformation towards the open and collaborative government 'environment'. What are the underlying conditions, enablers, risks and barriers?

Through understanding the future role of government and the public sector in Europe, we can enhance European cohesion, well-being, welfare and unity, while challenging the narratives of voices which question the relevance of European values. In order to contribute to individual and societal development, we need to consider how to embrace the positive potential of digital technologies to strengthen the cohesion of European society, through shared values and to facilitate active participation in the democratic system.


a) Research and Innovation Actions

(2016/2017) Research is needed to explore and analyse how the public administrations can become open and collaborative, encouraging the engagement and participation of public, private and civil society stakeholders - such as for example other public authorities, users, citizens, businesses, researchers, civil society organisations, social innovators, social entrepreneurs, media actors, artists and designers - for effective, appropriate and user-friendly public service design, delivery and policy-making.

The research proposals should present evidence of previous experience in creating environments fostering co-creation through engaging different societal actors in addressing research and impact goals (scientific, political and social) and their planned research should go beyond the existing theories and empirical evidence. The actions need to engage multi-disciplinary and multi-sectoral teams to explore the complexity of public services, enablers for public administrations, identify the necessary changes, risks and barriers to implementation, assess the potential of different policy domains and explore feasibility in different public administration contexts (across a representative set of Member States and different levels of governments). The actions need to provide a set of concrete recommendations for policy-makers at local, regional and national level. The actions need to address the transferability and sustainability of their results.

Proposals need to address several of the below aspects:

  • Exploring what the role of governments in an open and collaborative government setting may be and how this could be embedded in an EU setting (taking into account shared European values, diversity as well as principles of subsidiarity);
  • Developing methods and approaches to understanding community assets, needs and requirements in order to provide meaningful public services;
  • Understanding the demographics, appropriateness of participatory practices and their feasibility for scaling up, so as to generate civic participation on all levels, ensure level playing field in public engagement and legitimacy of the process;
  • Analysing the necessary cultural attitudes, roles, skills, expertise, knowledge as well as incentives and drivers (such as for example possibilities for wellbeing, healthy life, employment, democracy issue, etc.) of those involved in this process (including civil servants, service providers and users);
  • Exploring how innovative processes and mechanisms (e.g. through scalable open platforms or open architectures, etc.) can be embedded in public administrations to create an open digital government environment and ecosystem for improving service delivery and citizen engagement;
  • Analysing the conditions under which user-knowledge input is fully integrated in the services/policy development/design process;
  • Analysing what co-creation in the public sector can learn from the private sector in terms of critical drivers and enabling factors;
  • Exploring the suitability of different institutional frameworks for collaboration both within the public sector and with external actors that allow sharing data, information and services internally between departments and with external parties for re-use;
  • Exploring the suitability of innovative technologies that facilitate for example co-creation, sharing relevant information between stakeholders, address issues of privacy, data protection and security or improve communication;
  • Analysing the drivers and enabling factors for societal actors to engage in public service or policy co-creation and identifying different sustainability models (such as for example Public Private Partnerships, government spin-offs, hybrid government teams, etc.);
  • Exploring, monitoring and measurement approaches, methods and tools to understand the impact of open, innovative and collaborative government for public administrations, for growth and societal well-being and for substantiating the link between innovative public sector service and public sector efficiency.

Actions may want to strengthen their recommendations for prioritisation of reform steps to be taken by relying on insights through perception data with respect to the public sector in general or the public administration in particular (e.g. bottlenecks perceived by both the citizens and businesses in dealing with the public sector, etc.) It is essential that users are a fundamental part of any proposed project and proposals may want to validate the prototype developed in any of the above.

The Commission considers that proposals requesting a contribution from the EU of between EUR 4 and 5 million would allow this specific challenge to be addressed appropriately. This does not preclude submission and selection of proposals requesting other amounts.

b) Coordination and Support Action[[This activity is directly aimed at supporting the development and implementation of evidence base for R&I policies and supporting various groups of stakeholders. It is excluded from the delegation to Research Executive Agency and will be implemented by the Commission services.]]

(2016) The aim is to bring together actors inside and outside public administrations, including policy makers, politicians, civil society organisations, users, businesses, researchers, social innovators, social entrepreneurs, initiatives, good practices both in the EU and internationally to identify good practice cases, discuss and exchange on the transformation of public administrations in Europe and discuss the future role of government in this context. Proposals will need to develop a strategic stakeholder engagement plan and a roadmap for future research directions.

The Commission considers that proposals requesting a contribution from the EU in the order of EUR 0.5 million would allow this specific challenge to be addressed appropriately. This does not preclude submission and selection of proposals requesting other amounts.

Expected Impact

The actions will form the basis for new institutional strategies and mechanisms to enhance collaboration among government departments and with other actors to collaboratively design, produce and deliver public services and policies. The findings will help public administrations at all levels to rethink their roles in the European society. Results will give guidance to governments and policy makers on how to transform public administrations to become open, innovative and collaborative. The policy recommendations will provide guidance on the cultural, legal or procedural changes needed to facilitate the direct uptake of research and other insights by stakeholders. The actions will also improve the understanding of the effectiveness of related public policies in different democratic models. Taking up the policy recommendations will ultimately lead to improved public service delivery and policy effectiveness, higher quality services, improved societal evidence, improved user experiences and inclusiveness as well as increasing level of civic participation, transparency, trust, social inclusion, accountability of institutions and good governance.

Application date
Social sciences
Humanities : Anthropology & Ethnology