This is One Way Chile’s Government is Encouraging Innovation

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Jun 25, 2019
by Martin Silva Rey
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This is One Way Chile’s Government is Encouraging Innovation

Roman Yosif, executive director of the Government Lab in Chile discusses the initiative's impact on public administration Roman Yosif at Salzburg Global Seminar

"I had the motivation that, at some point, my professional career would be linked with public policies since public policies can have an impact at the national level in a much stronger way than when you work in private business." That motivation turned into reality when Roman Yosif was hired by the Chilean government to launch what's thought to be the first government lab in Latin America. After five years, he now leads Laboratorio de Gobierno.

In May this year, Yosif attended the Salzburg Global Seminar program, Agility for an Accelerating World: Can Governments Keep Up?, part of the Public Sector Strategy Network. There, he was one of the youngest public sector leaders to share his experience with international colleagues.

So, how does the Chilean Government Lab work?

"At first, we had a series of very standardized programs that we went out to sell. And now what we do is a logic of agile consultancy in innovation projects, where we capture demand from public institutions that require innovation, where we filter when it's really necessary that the lab works with them, but where at the same time that agile logic allows you to transfer capacities. [It] allows you to address problems that really are [a] priority…" Yosif said.

Yosif and his team see themselves as advisors in public innovation and recognize the significance and logic of working in partnership with others. He said, "We are not a McKinsey-like consultant that only gives recommendations, and later others implement, but we are part of the implementation… The base of the lab is co-creation, co-design, and how public policies really focus on people's needs [and] different types of users. Sometimes, they are a hospital's patients. Sometimes, [they are] entrepreneurs who need to develop in a market. Sometimes, non-governmental agencies…"

By having a network of public innovators, knowledge is decentralized, and there is an increased motivation to innovate and share, according to Yosif. He said, "It breaks the chain not only between ministers and sectors but also between the central government and local governments. And it also invites the private sector, the third sector, entrepreneurs, and other ordinary citizens to join this network of people…"

One of the main challenges that he and his team have had to face was a shift from a leftist government that created the lab to a more conservative one.

"Usually, when these small agencies are created in Chile, with a specific target, and by a specific administration, if the political color changes, in the following government, they are eliminated. And if they are not eliminated, they are completely changed, teams totally change, and thus perspectives change—sometimes too drastically.

"So, we had the challenge of transitioning from one administration to the other, and also of reviewing what we had done at a very initial state of the lab, and say, well, what works and what does not. And when I had the first conversations with the authorities, basically the authorities told us, 'A laboratory inside a government draws our attention, but innovation just for innovation… Honestly, this is not what we are looking for. We are looking for concrete results, in a short time, with delivery to the people, and 100-percent connected with the president's agenda…'"

A week was the time they had to adapt to the new conditions. Yosif said, "The team was resilient and had the capacity to critique what we had done… and present a proposition to the president and his advisors on how Laboratorio de Gobierno 2.0 should be."

In Salzburg, Yosif found himself in the company of 31 other public leaders from 19 countries, exploring similar challenges and exchanging familiar experiences. He said, "When you have structural social problems that have not been solved yet, and when you have precarious management from the state, that is when innovation happens in the most latent way… It is about how we turn a problem upside down, from the user's point of view, with an agile work logic where there is not a six-month planning horizon, but daily, weekly, [and] monthly you are discovering what the best way is, what is the best design. You test it, you evaluate it, and then you scale it…

"[In this model] there isn't a group of experts to tell us what we have to do but it's users who have the best knowledge about the problems that they live day by day in transport, public health care, and other areas. And it is public officers who must capture those insights at a massive level, who must have the abilities to transform them in pertinent solutions, and they also need to have the mindset to say, 'Well, we are at their service.' We are partners in the development of these innovations… and we always have to be alert about new technologies [and] new trends. Therefore, we need to connect ourselves in a public-private system of public innovation."   

Yosif's next challenge is to make the lab a long-lasting institution with long-term effects. He said, "For me, this is… more than a job, a super personal life mission. I am absolutely convinced that the way to add value where one is has to do with how you change paradigms, how you motivate and invite people to see new scenarios, to test those new scenarios and to have the courage, and to have as well the will to learn how to develop those new scenarios…"


The Salzburg Global Seminar program, Agility for an Accelerating World: Can Governments Keep Up?, is part of the Public Sector Strategy Network. This program is supported by the Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Court, in partnership with Apolitical. Additional country and institutional partners include the Australian Government, the Government of Ireland, the Government of Canada's Impact and Innovation Unit, Civil Service College Singapore, and Nesta. More information on this network is available at the following link: https://bit.ly/2PMCt5m