Fellow Philip – Innovating at SEM

Philip Urech works at SEM as an 'innovation fellow'. Together with members of the public, he has developed a prototype that foreigners living in Switzerland can use to clarify their options for obtaining Swiss nationality.

Prototype screenshot mock-ups

In the beginning was the question: what can SEM achieve within a year through targeted innovation? Philip Urech, a man familiar with IT and innovation processes, was the man to answer this question.

Reinventing the wheel with regard to migration – and within a year – was a tall order, even for Philip Urech. So he started by analysing the many enquiries that SEM receives on a daily basis from the public. The topic of Swiss citizenship quickly emerged as a prime candidate for the innovation experiment.

Becoming Swiss starts with a form

Obtaining Swiss citizenship starts with submitting an application; this applies to everyone. However, this is where any similarities between applicants end. The precise conditions that have to be met and the questions that have to be answered depend to a large extent on the situation of the applicant. Are they a citizen of an EU or EFTA state? Are they married to a Swiss national? How long have they been living in Switzerland? How old are they? It’s the answers to these questions that determine which application form needs be submitted.

Philip Urech’s goal gradually became clear as the process unfolded: to systematically guide a person through all of these questions so that they know which application form they need to submit to start the naturalisation process.

Iterate, iterate, iterate…

Philip Urech didn’t work alone. He consistently relied on innovation processes in which a wide variety of people could contribute their expertise and opinions. Both foreigners wanting to apply for naturalisation and SEM experts were involved in this co-creation project. "We didn't invent anything new; we just used tried and tested processes," says Philip Urech. “Design thinking, rapid prototyping, agile development – whatever the correct terms are, the most important thing was to involve professionals and end users on an ongoing basis."

20200916 Team Pedro
In a co-creation project, as many people as possible work together to develop a product.

Philip Urech regularly invited people to 'sprint reviews' – an instrument that is now commonplace in IT. Those invited were given an insight into the process every fortnight and in return provided valuable feedback.

As the months passed, a prototype was developed that showed how resident foreigners could use a digital self-check tool to navigate through to the correct application form. Screenshot mock-ups that could be clicked through step-by-step – but without full functionality – were used to illustrate the process.

The end is only the beginning

Innovation is never a finished process, and one cycle inevitably leads to the next. But after a year, the prototype is now ready to be rolled out and Urech says he is satisfied: "I think we got the maximum out of it." He recalls the extensive feedback, criticisms and suggestions from the people involved. He remembers one woman in particular because she did not expect the government to involve the public in such a process. "I really feel that I’m being taken seriously as a citizen with this project," she said. You can't ask for more than that.

Portrait Philip Urech draussen
"Innovation can only work if everyone is involved." Philip Urech, Innovation Fellow

The Swiss Confederation's Innovation Fellowship Programme

The Federal Office of Personnel, in cooperation with the staatslabor, promotes innovation within the Federal Administration. To this end, it has set up an Innovation Fellowship Programme.

Lionel Kapff, Head of Strategy, Governance and Research at SEM, organised participation in the programme. He was able to recruit Philip Urech as an Innovation Fellow for SEM for the programme called 'Digital administrative assistant for optimised communication with the public and other stakeholders’. Kapff and Urech have already presented the innovative naturalisation self-check project at numerous events (see photo below). The interim results have led to the Innovation Fellowship Programme now being firmly established within the Federal Administration.

20221116 fellowship praesentationen
Presentation of the project to the then head of the Federal Department of Finance, Federal Councillor Ueli Maurer.