Paper published within the International Conference on Theory and Practice of Electronic Governance (ICEGOV 2021), October 06-08, 2021, Athens, Greece


Public agencies struggle with engaging citizens in digital public service innovation. The notion that citizen engagement in public service innovation can lead to more citizen-friendly digital services is widely accepted. Moreover, citizen engagement has also become an indicator of legitimacy; public service innovation without citizen engagement is more likely to be scrutinized on public values like privacy, transparency, fairness, and citizen control. Yet it remains difficult to engage with citizens throughout the various stages of innovation. Often, the hard question of how to balance system performance and public values in innovation resurfaces, and we cannot leave it to software programmers to answer this question.

This short paper reveals how the Netherlands and Italy are engaging citizens in public service innovation. We found that in both countries, the quadruple helix approach is gaining support and citizen engagement is increasingly becoming the norm rather than the exception. Both countries are gaining experience with new citizen engagement methods like user-driven prototyping and living labs.We found that these methods increase empathy, creativity and reflection on ethical dilemmas. Following such methods also signals to policymakers that a democratic process was followed, ultimately backing a specific innovation direction. Other countries looking to enhance citizen engagement in public services innovation can benefit from the insights presented in this paper.


This short work-in-progress paper demonstrates that government agencies can successfully employ several methods for public service innovation. The drivers needed for this are a sense of urgency and willingness to open up innovation activities for the entire society (represented by the quadruple helix approach). This can be sensitive since some public agencies do not want to be open about their innovation struggles and lack of innovation capabilities. Because innovation efforts often fail, it is also important to acknowledge the value of learning from failures. On the other hand, it is essential to develop and refine a set of new and more inclusive methods to make citizen participation in public service innovation easy and effective.

Most of the available service design techniques in literature (e.g. design sprints) are based on targeting and segmentation of user groups, concepts that public agencies often cannot use, given the principles of universal service delivery. Therefore, we also need innovations on the method level, as means to drive innovation on the digital services level. The experience in the Netherlands and Italy thus far is that new citizen engagement methods such as userdriven prototyping and living labs – that have a strong emphasis on prototyping – show a lot of potential for making the four helixes turn and engage with citizens on a deeper level.

The complete paper as it was published on the ICEGOV can be downloaded through the following link.