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Creating a Culture of Innovation in Copenhagen

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Innovation is one of those words that everyone loves, it is what every company should be constantly doing in order to create new, groundbreaking products that help to keep them ahead of the game. It is also a word that city leaders and politicians love to use when they are looking to position their city as a global leader.

But talking about it and doing it are 2 very different things!

I just got off the phone to Diana Arsovic Nielsen from the Municipality of Copenhagen, as Chief of Innovation Diana is tasked with creating an innovation culture across the municipality. It is a really interesting role and one that not many cities have, Diana reports directly to the Mayor, but works across all departments of city hall so that innovation is not only talked about, but put into practice on a daily basis.

Diana, you are Chief of Innovation in Copenhagen – what does that mean? And what does it entail?

Innovation is about generating value for people. Therefore, it is my prime task as Chief of innovation to ensure that our initiatives create value for our citizens and businesses in Copenhagen.

In my role as Chief of Innovation, it is my firm belief that innovation cannot be centralised. Therefore, the Innovation House, which I am leading, is not an “end station” for projects. Rather, I view us as a “central station” – a place that consolidates the knowledge that exists centralised and decentralised within the entire municipality in order to create better processes and in the end better solutions for the Copenhageners.

In my daily work, I support the formation of networks and facilitate a systematic approach to innovation across the administrative departments. By teaching and training the employees across the administrative departments I aspire to create an innovation culture in Copenhagen Municipality and to give each employee the competencies to deploy innovation methods in their work on a daily basis.

Wow, it sounds like a challenging, but rewarding role. How are you changing the mindset in city hall so that employees embrace innovation?

I work very closely with the strategic leaders in city hall whose main area of interest is business development and value creation. I view it as my responsibility to inspire these leaders to see the potential of new ideas and initiatives and at the same time I listen to their visions for the future.

In this work, knowledge about our citizens and their interests is very valuable to us. Therefore, we engage the decentralised departments in Copenhagen Municipality in our projects, and we make sure that their perspectives are brought into consideration, when we make decisions at city hall.

Moreover, we run a competency course for employees throughout the entire organisation. We do so, because the decisions we make in city hall cannot stand alone. If our aim is to create greater value for both citizens and companies, we need to make sure our decisions are implemented throughout the entire organisation, and therefore we need to engage employees at all levels.

With regards to creating the culture of innovation, what has been the biggest challenge for you thus far?

It has been challenging to work in such a huge and complex organisation, to create and maintain good connections with people throughout the entire organisation.

Another major challenge that I face daily is how to facilitate change throughout the organisation and thereby make sure new initiatives generate value. I do not count innovation as innovation until we can measure the value it generates.

Innovation is all about humans and not, as many people tend to think, about good ideas. It is about how good ideas can add new value to a person’s life. If people do not buy in on your idea, it does not go anywhere, and thus it does not create value for anyone. Therefore, I am particularly interested in how we can go through the last steps of the process and thus make sure our solutions are implemented successfully.

Innovation is about humans, I really like that idea, it is not something I have really heard before, but you are definitely right. Copenhagen is one of the leading smart cities, how will further innovation aid in the future development of the city?

I believe the next step for Copenhagen Municipality is to put even further emphasis on the process of implementing our new initiatives – and this should be done in close collaboration with the companies that provide new technology.

If the citizens of Copenhagen are to use the new technology that has been brought about with the Smart City agenda, it is crucial that the organisation is ready to adopt it and implement it. We all know the saying that “old habits die hard”, but when new technology is implemented within an organization it is way too often overlooked that both employees and citizens need to adapt and that this requires training.

Too often new initiatives do not generate any value, simply because the target group do not see the potential. Once again this illustrates how innovation is first and foremost about humans. We do not implement smart technology to promote Copenhagen as a brand. We do it to generate value for our citizens – we want them to experience better services in their city, and in order to achieve this we need to teach both our citizens and employees how to use these services.  

Moving beyond city hall, do you think an innovation culture can be created in citizens and business in Copenhagen? 

Of course! Innovation is about creativity and generating value for people. And that is something everyone can contribute to, but it requires training.

I believe in the concept of open innovation. In order to figure out how we should prioritise in the future, we need to look outside of our own organisation and learn from others. We need to realise that the best solutions are created when we work together in a fourth sector that brings together the private, public and civil sectors in a co-creation process. This is how we will generate value for our citizens and companies in the future.

Some great food for thought over the course of this interview. One aspect that I really like is that Copenhagen is trying to be smarter for its citizens, it is not about brand Copenhagen, but about the people. This ties in perfectly with the last point that Diana makes about co-creation. Co-creation should be a big focus for cities and municipalities moving forward and it is interesting to hear that Copenhagen are embracing this already.

I would like to extend a very big thank you to Diana for her time today, I am sure it is not easy to find a window in what sounds like a very busy schedule. Diana will be presenting more about Innovation in Copenhagen at Smart Cities Live in London on 12-13 September – www.smartcitieslive.com