Is the Copenhagen Innovation House a closed party?

A few days ago, I attended the opening reception at the Copenhagen Innovation House. In two months, a former Danske Bank office has been transformed into a new innovation space for municipal departments, citizens, private enterprises etc. The new initiative is headed by Diana Arsovic Nielsen, who was previously Director of Health Innovation Centre of Southern Denmark.Some thoughts on the opening have already been given by Steinar Valade-Amland in his LinkedIn post The Usual Suspects, where he reflects on the observation that the attendees were pretty much the same bunch as when he was attending similar events. Funny enough, I had a similar, but different experience – I was wondering why there were so few that I actually knew; a glimpse of an answer came when Lord Mayor Frank Jensen, who gave an excellent opening speech, asked the audience to indicate who the lucky ones to be outposted from City Hall to the Innovation House were: A forest of hands from public servants showed.

“Ahhh,” I thought, “but of course, this is because this is a municipal initiative, and they have invited employees and connections from their network, which means that there are not very many attendees from the private sector.” This reflection is supported by one of the Innovation Barometer’s observations, that for municipally generated innovations, only 20% of these occur in collaboration with private enterprises:


It is of course a great initiative to build into the concept that selected employees from all 7 municipal departments must spend regular time in the Innovation House, to encourage cross-departmental innovation and collaboration. And it is good to have a physical space and staff to facilitate this. And of course, to have the necessary initial funding.

1,000 New Citizens every Month

Frank Jensen, Lord Mayor of Copenhagen, who did the opening speech, summarised the raison d’etre of the new Innovation House as follows:

Copenhagen faces a lot of challenges, some of which are rooted in the fact that 1,000 new citizens settle in Copenhagen every month, and that the city needs to provide better service for less money. The initiative is spearheaded across the board from city hall, and fits nicely into Frank Jensen vision to develop Copenhagen to become the best city in the world. The house should be a place for open innovation, co-creation and prototyping. Each Friday, there is open house, where everybody can join in for a beer and a chat.

I decided to look a little bit more into the background for this initiative, since the City of Copenhagen is not the first large city or municipality to come up with such an initiative.

Where are the Danish Innovation Centers?

Starting at the national level, Denmark has 7 Innovation Centres in the world: Munich, New Delhi, São Paulo, Seoul, Shanghai, Silicon Valley, and Tokyo.

According to Center for Offentlig Innovation (COI), there are 16 public sector innovation centers. A deep dive into their interactive map reveals this list:

  1. Idéklinikken is an innovation unit under Ålborg University Hospital (the link to the unit is disabled, though)
  2. MidtLab is the joint innovation unit of Central Denmark Region (CDR)
  3. Spinderihallerne provides an innovation environment for people who work in the field of business, design and art
  4. Kolding Kommunes Designsekretariat connects business,and municipality around design, entrepreneurship and public sector innovation
  5. Odense Kommunes Innovationsteam works with user-driven innovation
  6. VISIO is a research program on innovation, leadership and organisational learning
  7. Madkulturen is a hub for everybody that works with food and meals
  8. Sundhedsinnovation Sjælland (SIS) wants to find solutions to the most important challenges of the health sector, and to faciltate their implementation in the region
  9. Gate21 is a partnership between local authorities, private companies and research institutions working together for a sustainable society and green business development
  10. VihTek “‹”‹”‹is a regional knowledge centre that provides an overview of welfare technology solutions and contribute to research, development and innovation in the field
  11. Center for Innovation, Konkurrence- og Forbrugerstyrelsen seems to be provider of novel web solutions, they are pretty invisible on the web, though…
  12. Forskning og Innovation has focus on health research and innovation, and to create – in collaboration with enterprises, universities and other parties – the health services, innovative treatments, technologies and health-care services of the future
  13. NaturErhvervstyrelsen – Innovation supports policy development in NaturErhvervsstyrelsen
  14. Innovationshuset Københavns Kommune is the new initiative, to facilitate innovation across all municipal departments in Copenhagen
  15. Center for Offentlig Innovation facilitates that innovation from one area of the public sector spreads faster to other areas than it would otherwise happen
  16. MindLab is a cross-governmental innovation unit which involves citizens and businesses in creating new solutions for society, and is one of the earliest (to my knowledge) public sector innovation centers

There are much more than 16 innovation centres, though; my guess is that at least half of all municipalities has one (Copenhagen is probably one of the last); a Google search on “innovationscentre kommuner” gave 19.700 hits on August 16th. I haven’t been able to find a comprehensive overview, but it would be worthwhile to create one. The map that COI has created is a start, but it is far from complete, and it doesn’t give an overview of who is working with who, and it doesn’t give an overview of what the centres are actually doing.

Background for Innovation House Copenhagen

The background for the creation of Innovation House Copenhagen can be found on the City of Copenhagen’s website, below I have provided an excerpt:

The Innovation house should be a place that creates value for the municipality’s citizens, customers, employees and companies / suppliers. The value is created by being an innovation partner that facilitates, inspires and challenges municipal departments, as well as by being a service organization that supports current management needs. The Innovation house must possess skills and be able to deliver a performance that differs from what is possible in the City of Copenhagen today. The purpose of creating Innovation house is generally to develop better and more innovative solutions, and to create a whole focus of the municipality’s core processes end to end – all the way from preliminary analysis to evaluation and operation. In addition, The Innovation house helps strengthen the innovation capabilities in the municipality’s core operations through training of key actors in the administrations and support the development of innovation culture in Copenhagen.

Three Bottom Lines

Three “bottom lines” have been identified for the Innovation house:

  1. Improve the perceived quality of municipal services to citizens, users, companies / suppliers and employees.
  2. Improved efficiency through smarter solutions and faster processes and lower costs.
  3. Commercial growth by developing new solutions and involvement of providers (public-private cooperation).

In order to deliver on these goals, Innovation house’s core mission is to facilitate, professionalize and strengthen the involvement of citizens, customers, employees and suppliers in the development of municipal services. These could include a variety of new projects, maintenance of existing systems or assessing the quality of operation of municipal services. It would also entail a wide gamut of up-skilling of its employees and an understanding of using clean-up equipment and spill kits (navigate to this website to learn more about different kits and their utilization). In so doing, the Innovation house believes that municipal employees will be inspired and challenged to create better and more innovative development projects for the benefit of the people of Copenhagen and municipal employees.

The Innovation house must therefore support all stages of an innovation project, e.g.:

  • clarification of needs / requirements specification
  • concept development
  • test (eg. prototype) evaluation and acquisition of knowledge

For the Innovation house to be able to deliver on these objectives, it is not intended that the house possesses a deep insight in the municipality’s core tasks, but are staffed mainly with skills that can support project development, user involvement and design processes. The Innovation house do not do projects for management but with management.

What are the Key Success Factors for the Copenhagen Innovation House?


My first impression of this new initiative is definitely positive. Based on my research end experience with public and private innovation initiatives, I will offer the following list of things to watch out for:

  • Broaden your network: Based on my initial observation, that the opening reception seemed somewhat like a closed party; I know that the people behind the initiative, and the leadership and the staff has put a lot of work into defining the scope of the center and so on – but there may be even more possibilities here, in terms of including e.g. private enterprises more, and perhaps to facilitate international collaborations in terms of large city innovation.
  • Create some early victories: Right now, the Innovation Center has a “free ride”, but that is not going to last, and there is a difficult communication task here, in terms of getting the message out that “we did this, and it couldn’t have happened without us,” especially if it is a small project, and especially if somebody from outside the house believe that they should have received the credit.
  • Embark on projects that are really important: This is a tough one. I glanced through the initial list of proposed projects for the Innovation House, and they seem important enough, but fairly broadly defined. My advice is to embark on some serious portfolio management from the very start, to ensure a proper balance between “easy wins” and “tough projects”.
  • Make sure that the outposting really works: This means – make sure that the outpost employees from the city hall departments really have something meaningful to do while they are outposted, and that there is a critical mass in terms of time, power, content, support, money and so on. It is not enough to have nice surroundings and a competent staff. Maybe the outposts should also be reversed?
  • Make sure the keep a full house: The buzz of the reception is not going to last, and you really need to make sure that the house is occupied, and that something goes on here – every single day.
  • Use the Innovation House as a learning environment: Set up a learning environment, where visitors and users have the possibility to engage, learn and become involved.
  • Benchmark yourself: Measure your performance, e.g. number of new projects, number of outposts, articles written on social media, members of Innovation House Community, project distribution across municipal departments etc. etc.
  • Maintain transparency: The great thing about municipal initiatives is that you can pretty much find anything about any initiative; the bad thing is that it is very comprehensive, and difficult to get an easy overview – Copenhagen Innovation House could be the first municipal innovation center that maintained an overview of activities that was easy to navigate in :-)
  • Decide what NOT to do: Innovation is a multiheaded, evasive monster – so it is extremely important that you – internally as well as externally – communicate the boundaries of your activities – what are you not doing? Especially in the public domain, this is very important, because the number of innovation initiatives is overwhelming, and the risk of non-productive overlaps is very real.

What are your thoughts about the Copenhagen Innovation House? Please feel free to comment below.

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