The Innovation Imperative in the Public Sector

The Innovation Imperative in the Public Sector

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19 Aug 2015
9789264236561 (PDF) ;9789264236554(print)

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The public sector has to become more innovative if it is to tackle today’s complex challenges and meet society’s changing expectations. But becoming truly innovative requires deep and broad changes to organisational culture and operations. Drawing on evidence emerging from the OECD Observatory of Public Sector Innovation’s collection of innovative practices from around the world, this report looks at how to create a government where innovation is encouraged and nurtured.

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  • Foreword

    The public sector is seeking to innovate, to become more open, collaborative, iterative and participatory. Innovation has become a must for governments if they are to address the multitude of citizen and private sector expectations, the complexity of the policy challenges and the quest for productivity.

  • Executive summary

    Governments are seeking to innovate: in how they work; in the services they provide and how they provide them; and in how they interact with citizens, businesses and civil society. These changes are being driven by different forces, including a more globalised and networked world, rising citizen expectations, new technologies, increasingly complex problems facing governments and – particularly since the 2008 economic crisis – tight budgets. Whatever the reason, the consensus seems clear: public sector organisations need new ways of working.

  • Public sector innovation: An agenda for action
  • Empowering the public sector workforce to achieve public sector innovation

    Enabling innovation in public sector organisations means enabling the people who work in these institutions. People management helps to build innovative capacity in a great many ways, by ensuring that the right people with the right skills and talents are working in the right ways to maximise creative energy and see projects through to implementation. Motivating public servants to think and act in ways that lead to innovation requires a careful consideration of the reward structures in public sector organisations and the organisational climate and culture. How risk is handled and the way that experimentation and learning are encouraged can impact the willingness of employees to contribute their ideas and energy to innovation. Effective leadership that is able to inspire and ensure stable and effective working conditions can also contribute.

  • Generating and sharing innovative ideas in the public sector

    Innovation does not just mean doing new things, but new things which are appropriate for the organisation in question and the community that it serves. To achieve this, organisations need access to accurate, good quality, usable information about their operations, their performance, their past experiences, their partners and the users that they serve. The availability and exploitation of such information and knowledge can support organisations to become "learning organisations" which grow, mature and develop, by drawing on information and learning from their experiences and those of others. However, being able to tap into such knowledge poses challenges for public sector organisations. They need appropriate information systems in place to generate and manage data and information internally. Sharing and interoperability with other organisations across the public sector can support the exchange of appropriate information, while openness across society can facilitate the creation of public sector value and innovation across the economy.

  • Working in new ways to support public sector innovation

    Few contemporary public sector organisations that are responsive and effective in targeting their citizens’ needs and desires can do so in isolation. Individual organisations hold different sets of information, have different resources and competencies to act in different areas. Developing a complete picture of the individual citizen, understanding what they need and the entry points where they can best access public services means that organisations need to work together. Country experiences demonstrate that collaboration and partnership are being supported by new ways of working – at team level with more flexible ways of organising teams and how their work is executed, to institutionalising co-design and user-centred services through innovation labs. Further work is required to understand when and where such approaches are appropriate, and in which circumstances they add value.

  • Innovating within existing public sector rules, processes and procedures

    Rules, processes and procedures enable large organisations to accomplish co-ordinated tasks in standardised ways, and therefore have a significant impact on the kind of work and innovation that an organisation can undertake. Clarifying and simplifying rules and regulations, and ensuring a minimum of red tape to ensure compliance with important protocol can open up space for innovation and ensure that employees share a collective understanding of where that space lies. The rules that control spending also have a strong impact on the ability for organisations to resource innovation, with more budget agility assumed to provide more opportunity to finance innovation projects. Additionally, the project management approaches themselves are processes that can either support or hinder effective innovation in public sector organisations. Various experimental approaches to project development that include piloting and prototyping may challenge traditional approaches to organisational transformation and require a different regulatory framework to reap potential innovation benefits.

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