Demographic changes. Climate crisis. Cybercrime. Budget deficits. Diminishing political legitimacy. From a global perspective there is no shortage of complex problems facing the public sector. The need for innovative solutions is evident, but a systematic knowledge base for necessary public sector innovations is hard to come by.

Private sector companies have been the subject of internationally comparable statistics on innovation for nearly three decades, giving private companies, scholars and public sector decision-makers essential guidance for business development, research and policymaking.

For the public sector, however, anecdotes and opinions have been substitutes for statistical data on innovation. That is why, in 2015, the Danish National Centre for Public Sector Innovation, in association with Statistics Denmark, began separating myth from reality. The result was the Innovation Barometer, the world’s first official statistics on public sector innovation. The statistic is based on a nationwide web-based survey addressed to managers of public sector workplaces of all kinds - kindergartens, schools, hospitals, police stations ect.

While the findings were both surprising and useful, additional insight from national comparisons was missing. But not for long. By 2018 Norway, Sweden, Iceland and Finland had all conducted one or more national surveys, utilising similar methodologies and definitions, though adapted somewhat to better serve national agendas. Their ongoing efforts have also contributed to methodological adjustments, improving the original survey design.

Currently a large variety of people and organisations use Nordic Innovation Barometer data, applying them for their own purposes, e.g. inspiration, policymaking, strategizing, HR development, teaching, research and consultancy services. Or for legitimising certain decisions and criticising others. In short, the Nordic Innovation Barometers are being put to use as the public good they were intended to be, also in ways the developers and adaptors did not foresee.

On behalf of the remarkably innovative Nordic public sectors we are pleased to present the first website containing cross-Nordic comparisons. Although this website does not tell us everything that we would like to know about public sector innovation, it does provide a sorely needed systematic foundation for developing new solutions.

Compare with caution: Nordic public sectors are not identical

For a non-Nordic observer, similarities between the Nordic countries, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden, are perhaps the dominant features – of small populations, cold climate, low economic inequality, high incomes and high levels of public service. Still, there are significant differences that must be considered when comparing the Nordic countries.

The structure, governance and task distribution of the public sector vary across the Nordic countries. For instance, Iceland does not have a regional level, while Finland’s regional level comprises joint municipal authorities, some of them statutory. In Denmark, Norway and Sweden regional levels are led by directly elected representatives but their task portfolios are not identical.

In addition public entities must provide services to very different population sizes and geographical areas. The population of Stockholm, the capital of Sweden, is nearly three times that of all of Iceland, and the population density in Denmark is 44 times higher than in Iceland. Obviously, there are also differences when it comes to, e.g. legislation, tax financing and local income levels.

This means that any differences to be found in innovation activity, measured in national averages, may not be due to differences in innovation practices alone, but perhaps also due to numerous other variables, some of them listed above. However, these reservations are universal and apply to all transnational comparisons. In a global context, the Nordic countries have very strong similarities on a wide range of parameters. Indeed, it could be argued that cross-Nordic comparisons are subject to the least uncertainty that can be found anywhere in the world when comparing five countries.

This website openly presents the unfiltered differences for the sake of comparison, without scientifically controlling for every possible factor or testing for significant differences, which means the results must be interpreted with caution. Cross-country differences also exist in terms of data collection. Most importantly, the Finnish Innovation Barometer only covers municipalities and joint municipal authorities, but the other four Nordic countries include all existing administrative levels. For a more detailed account of data collection in each country download the methodology appendix here 

Download the complete Innovation Barometer Questionnaire here >

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