France learns from startup companies in modernising public online services

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The concept of the “State Startup” (Start-up d’Etat) was developed by the French SGMAP (Secrétariat Général pour la Modernisation de l’Action Publique) to improve digital services offered to citizens by the st­ate. State Startups use agile methodologies to develop and improve administrative web services so as to bring them closer to citizens. Users, product teams and ministries collaborate to improve online public services.

Policy context

  • In December 2012, CIMAP (the Comité Interministériel pour la Modernisation de l’Action Publique ordered French ministries to collect information on citizens’ needs so as to simplify administrative procedures.
  • In 2013, the French President officially announced measures (in a program called “le choc de simplification”) to simplify the relations between citizens, private companies and public administration. A first wave of 170 measures were initiated in July 2013. In January 2014, the Council of  Simplification was put in place. In February 2016, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls announced 170 new measures.
  • In November 2013 a new French law (2013–1005) empowered the government to simplify its relationships with citizens. The “Faire-Simple” project is an example of an implementation of this law.
  • The State Startup concept was officially launched during Public Innovation Week in October 2015, after two years of experimentation.

scheme

Description of the way to implement the initiative

After two years of experimentation, the concept of a State Startup (Start-up d’Etat in French) was officially introduced in October 2015, during France’s Public Innovation Week. “We develop Web applications created with and for administrations”, explains Hela Ghariani, project owner at SGMAP, which is part of DINSIC. The Direction interministérielle du numérique et du système d’information et de communication (DINSIC) is the new French government IT organisation, the 2015 merger between the predecessor DISIC and Etalab, the government’s open data hub. Ms Ghariani runs Mes-Aides.gouv.fr, which is an example of a State Startup.

15 startups are now being incubated by DINSIC, including :

  • Marché Public Simplifié (MPS – Simplified Public Market), which facilitates the tendering process by requiring only a company ID number (SIRET);
  • Le.Taxi, a mobile application for ordering taxis through a nation-wide geolocalised database;
  • La Bonne Boîte (“the right employer”), connecting job-seekers to companies who are recruiting; and
  • Mes Aides, ​a simulator for state benefits (see below).

Identify & fix real problems

The goal of State Startups is to identify real problems, quickly develop applications and web services to solve them, and ultimately help to modernise public services in France. To accelerate the development process and build applications close to the needs of citizens, State Startups rely on modern management methods (agile methods) like those generally used in private startup companies.

“In developing a web application that solves a user problem, it is quite difficult to follow the traditional processes used by the French administration,” said Hela Ghariani.

So with State Startups the development of public digital services is moving away from the traditional approach and instead relies on small teams. These teams focus on identifying a problem and solving it via a digital solution. “This is how we prototype better public services online” Hela Ghariani says.

The small teams in the DINSIC Incubator are usually made of:

  • Developer: understands the technical and the users’ issues;
  • Product Owner: defines how the project will solve the problems it has identified;
  • Coach: coordinates the project as a whole and helps the team to stay focus on making the best product.

Lean startup methodology

“These teams rely on the working methods used by startups,” Hela Ghariani says. To adapt to the limited financial resources, each State Startup comprises just two people: “These limited resources force us to be creative in finding solutions. We are trying to eliminate constraints that exist today in the administrative world when it comes to producing a web service,” she says. With the new approach, the first prototypes are ready for production within six months.

State Startups use a methodology known as Lean Startup. “This identifies a public service that needs to be improved to meet citizens’ expectations,” Hela Ghariani says. “We try to understand the user’s problem, and identify how they interact with the administration.” Once the problem is well defined, the team starts to prototype a product. The teams use agile methods like Scrum, tailoring them according to the project, the ecosystem and the external partners.

Continuous testing

Users are at the heart of the process of identifying the problem and developing a solution. “Tests are carried out with users according to the nature of the project,” explains Hela Ghariani.

An interministerial mission

Government ministries are also committed to the process, and serve as business experts. “State Startups have an interministerial mission because most of the time they involve services that cross the boundaries between several administrations,” says Hela Ghariani.

The source code of the final Web application is open and available under several open licenses. The source code is available on GitHub.

Main results, benefits and impacts

The example of Mes-aides.gouv.fr, a simulator for state benefits

Hela Ghariani manages a State Startup called Mes-aides.gouv.fr, which shows French citizens the state benefits they are entitled to. “Problems with state benefits were identified in a study conducted by SGMAP in 2013,” she says. “One of the questions was: ‘Why do some people never ask for the benefits they are eligible for?’. Indeed, some of the social benefits were poorly designed and that information about benefits was not reaching the right people. The eligibility criteria were really complex, so a typical person may not know whether he or she is eligible for one or more benefits,” says Hela Ghariani.

The first draft of Mes Aides was posted less than six months after the project began. A beta was online on October 2014, after four months of development.

According to the dashboard of digital services published by SGMAP in 2015, 26% of French people used online services in 2015. They recorded a satisfaction rate of 89%, which is very high. 20 out of 27 administrative procedures recorded an increase in the share of digital applications, reveals the barometer.

More information:

Source: European Commision, Joinup portal

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