Independent Public Officials Brabant

2013- In 2013 the Dutch province of Noord-Brabant started with a pilot version of an ‘expert exchange program’. This program, called ZPP Brabant (‘independent public official Brabant’), allows public officials to work on project basis for other branches of government. By doing so, Noord-Brabant hopes to retain (young) talented public officials by creating more challenging jobs. Furthermore, public organizations should benefit from the availability of flexible experts as this makes the better allocation of labor possible, thus reducing costs.

In the standard arrangement participating public officials can work on projects for other organizations for two days a week. During the project they remain on the pay roll of their normal employer. The employer charges the hiring organization for the relative part of their employee’s salary.  Besides the standard arrangement there is the option of a public official working as an independent contractor. In this form the public official takes on the full risk of (un) employment, but can determine his own fee in return. 

Regardless of the legal form chosen, the participating public officials should actively seek new work. They are expected to show (or develop) a more entrepreneurial mindset, seeking opportunities and seeing chances. To facilitate and stimulate this process, an internal (Yammer) website was created where supply and demand (of labor)could virtually meet.

To prepare the participating public officials for their new role, some four training modules were created. These modules covered everything from a basic ‘find your talent’ training, to more entrepreneurial minded legal and financial courses. The courses are optional, as not all public officials needed the same training.

Workplace Innovation

The rationale behind this program is that by creating more diversified and challenging jobs, more (talented) employees will stay. Furthermore, it is expected that the cost of hiring extern consultants will be reduced, because of the better allocation of labor within the different public organizations in the Noord-Brabant province.

By diversifying work, provide training, opportunities and the freedom to seek work that one sees fit, the quality of work should improve.  From an organizations perspective, these developments should lead to a better motivated workforce. Furthermore, participating employees should bring additional experience into the organization.

From a broader perspective, the Province of Noord-Brabant should benefit from the better allocation of labor(workforce) between (public) organizations. The better allocation of labor reduces the amount of necessary employee’s, thus reducing labor costs. The better allocation of labor and expertise should bring cost further down by reducing the amount of extern consultants hired, which are normally more expensive than public officials. On the long run, with a declining workforce in mind, the participating organizations should benefit from an improved imago on the labor market.

Preliminary Results

In practice it turns out that some (or most) of the participating public officials work in the standard form of ZPP’er. This relative safe form of ‘entrepreneurship’ isn’t much of an incentive for most public officials to actively seek new projects. As a result, most of the participants merely look at the Yammer page. The kind of entrepreneurial attitude they were expected to develop isn’t really present in most of them (yet).

According to one of the program managers, the relative slow start of ‘real entrepreneurship’ is partly because participating organizations have ‘an inward focus’. This means that whenever there is a job opening, they are more likely to fill this spot with one of their own employees, instead of looking within Noord-Brabant to find the best suited candidate. This might be because the managers are reluctant to by-pass one of their own employees in favor of a (relatively) unknown competitor, implicitly deeming them ‘unsuited’ or less capable.

This preference of own employees over (semi) independent public officials makes it difficult for public officials with to work as an independent consultant, as it is difficult to estimate how much work there is. The economic down turn with its (harsh) public spending cuts in its wake only increases the uncertainty of (future) workloads. As this is just an experiment, this is one of the most valuable lessons.


See also:

Theme: Dynamic management & leadership; labour relations; , Flexible organisation; Talent development;

Sector: Public Sector 

Sourcetype: Multimedia

Organisation: 18 publieke organisaties in Noord-Brabant


Contact person: Bart Louwers