TRIBUNE. Faced with the crisis, public services must rely on the expertise of citizens

Paul Duan is a social entrepreneur. A specialist in Big Data and the use of algorithms to solve questions of general interest, he is the president and co-founder of the NGO Bayes Impact.

Citizen action is the keystone of the future of public service. The health crisis has thus revealed many citizens’ initiatives of general interest and some unexpected bridges between them and the administration. The success of the independent CovidTracker site, with nearly 10 million visits in January, and the support provided by Olivier Véran is an excellent example of this new dynamic. Developed by a 24-year-old data scientist, CovidTracker was able to benefit from the support of the minister’s office in accessing certain data. The adoption by the Health Insurance of the contact case identification technology developed by our NGO, which has enabled, on the basis of a free and open source system, the reporting of more than 1.2 million contact cases, is a another symbol of these citizen innovations in the service of the general interest, propelled by the administration.

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At the heart of these collaborations lies a new dynamic of innovation for the general interest. Innovation, whether in industrial sectors, digital technologies or public services, in its very definition requires risk-taking. To gain in agility, we have seen the large pharmaceutical groups finance and rely on small innovative structures in order to ensure over time access to solutions to the coronavirus, in this case messenger RNA vaccines. The situation can be transposed to innovation for public services. Being solely responsible for this innovation for the general interest is neither healthy for the State in terms of excessive expectations, nor optimal for the citizen in terms of the solutions proposed. By relying on and propelling external and citizen initiatives, the State “Ridiculous” this innovation and allows the emergence of real unicorns of the general interest.

“Cultural change”

Crises have the dangerous aspect of focusing attention only on the urgencies of the moment. So let’s not leave to the health crisis these “Magic moments” collaboration and innovation between citizens and administrations. Through the many citizens’ responses to the crisis, it is indeed the emergence of a “World after” of the public service that has emerged. Going from reactive solutions to a crisis to a real system of collaboration and integration of these citizen public services within the official system is essential.

From a producer-to-beneficiary relationship, the State and citizens must move on to interactions of co-creators. This implies both a cultural change and a set of operational mechanisms that encourage mutual trust and facilitate this change in perceptions. The avenues of solutions to support this revolution are vast and multiple: integration of a component of citizen innovation in the recovery plan, simplified and accelerated opening of public contracts to certain citizen actors, clearly identified and long-term interlocutors within the administrations, opening of positions within the public administration to citizen entrepreneurs… It is up to politicians and the administration to send strong signals so that citizens take up this new social contract.

France can therefore reconnect with the prestige of its public service, which has long been the pride of our country internationally. For this, the state is no longer alone. It can count on citizen public services, and must provide them with the keys to grow and integrate the supply of public services available to all. It is in an alliance between citizens and State that our country must regain its leadership of public service.

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