MindLab –– a platform for co-creating better ideas.

Here’s a Danish initiative designed to promote innovation within government while breaking down government silos. MindLab is a cross-ministerial innovation unit which involves citizens and businesses in creating new solutions for society – “a neutral zone for inspiring creativity, innovation and collaboration”.

MindLab works with civil servants of three Danish ministries:

  1. Ministry of Business and Growth
  2. Ministry of Taxation
  3. Ministry of Employment

These three ministries cover broad policy areas that affect the daily lives of virtually all Danes: entrepreneurship, climate change, digital self-service, citizen’s rights, employment services and workplace safety are some of the areas they address.

MindLab helps the ministries’ key decision-makers and employees view their efforts from the outside-in, to see them from a citizen’s perspective. MindLab creates a platform for co-creating better ideas.

MindLab pursues five strategic objectives:

  1. Innovation: Development of new and proven public solutions that give individuals and businesses a better experience of public services and produce the desired outcomes.
  2. Efficiency: Better use of public resources because the new solutions are appropriately targeted.
  3. Culture: Transformation of the ministries’ culture and practices so that they involve citizens and businesses more extensively, and so that cooperation across the public sector is increased.
  4. Knowledge: Development and sharing of experience and new knowledge that encourage innovation in both the public and the private sector.
  5. Viability: Communicating MindLab’s work and how our parent ministries experiment with new methodologies and forms of cooperation.

The following is an excerpt from one MindLab project dealing with the Danish government’s “Away with the Red Tape” plan, which puts the citizen and deregulation at the top of the agenda.

The aim of the government’s “Away with the Red Tape” plan is to eliminate outdated and unnecessary rules and digitise and simplify complicated administrative procedures and processes. The “Away with the Red Tape” plan led to three studies being carried out by MindLab; working in collaboration with the Danish Tax and Customs Administration, the Danish National Board of Industrial Injuries, and the Danish Commerce and Companies Agency.

MindLab interviewed nine young taxpayers under the age of 30, seven young victims of industrial injury under the age of 30, seven young business owners who worked without any staff, and relevant external experts.

MindLab developed a number of different possible solutions intended to eliminate the perception of red tape for the three different groups of young people:

  1. Knowing what to expect: Having a clear overview of how a case is handled by government decreases the likelihood of misunderstanding and frustration.
  2. From digital access to digital self-reliance: Citizens don’t just require digital literacy, they also need to understand how to complete a given online task.
  3. Investing in personal contact: even the best IT solution cannot translate laws, rules and procedures to a citizen’s everyday solution as effectively as a face to face meeting.
  4. Building strategic alliances: caseworkers are only one of many other different actors that individual citizens typically meet in their encounter with public sector bureaucracy.

One of the citizen portraits presented in this project is the portrait of a young business owner.

William (23) has never been particularly concerned about the need to have a business, but when he landed a contract worth of 25.000 Danish crowns, he decided it was time to start a business. However, this brought a new worry into his life. In his tiny one-man business, Nørrebro Drys, William sells graphics, textile designs and DJ gigs.

“The most fun stuff I do is also what I’m making money from,” he grins. He has never been particularly concerned about the need to have a business, but when he landed a contract worth of 25.000 Danish crowns, he decided it was time to start a business. However, this brought a new worry into his life.

“I feel nervous every time I get a letter from the tax authorities. I worry there’s going to be a load of numbers and that I won’t understand what they’re doing there. When I was just getting my student grant and had a part-time job, I could hardly have done anything wrong. Now I can,” he says.

William thinks it is hard to understand under which circumstances government considers him a business owner and when he is considered a regular citizen. On the tax authority’s website he has to log in to both the Business and the Personal systems in order to correctly submit his tax return.

Here’s my favourite quote from William:

The University of Zanzibar’s website is easier to understand than the Danish tax authority. When I need to check my annual tax return, for example, I can only do it on the ”Personal” system, and I’ve never actually understood why they’ve organized it that way.

William hopes he will soon be able to afford to have an accountant do his bookkeeping and review his tax affairs. It is too complicated for him to tackle himself.