Executive Summary

Governments must innovate if they are to be effective. In a world of change, a government that stands still will soon be overtaken by events and shifting citizen expectations. This is as true for the Government of Brazil as it is for the government of any other country.

This report outlines the need for Brazil to take a systemic approach to public sector innovation, and what such an approach might involve. A range of priorities exist where innovation is, or will be, needed if the country’s aspirations are to be achieved.

Yet this truth is easier recognised than realised. There is no set prescription for innovation, let alone for building an innovation system within government to ensure a reliable, consistent, and deliberate approach. Nor is there an optimum level or amount of innovation that must occur. The requirement for innovation is an inherently dynamic and political question, as the desire and appetite for new approaches will continue to change depending on a country’s context, needs and ambitions. Any approach to develop an effective public sector innovation system must therefore be built on an appreciation of the country context. It must help to navigate rather than set out precise directions, on the understanding that the desired destination will continually shift over time.

Brazil has made increasing efforts to promote public sector innovation in recent years. It was one of the first countries to establish a national public sector innovation award, and has numerous innovative projects and initiatives that can be learnt from. The country has had a long preoccupation with ‘debureaucratisation’ and reform efforts, and has experimented with new forms of citizen engagement and societal oversight of government activity. It has developed innovation labs and trained public servants in new methods. It is also pursuing a digital transformation agenda that could help unlock considerable innovation. Despite all of these commendable efforts, however, this report finds that progress to date has not been sufficient.

The gap between the current state of innovation in the public sector and what is needed can be traced to the institutional defaults of the public sector and the characteristics of the Brazilian system, notably a risk environment that proves challenging for innovators. In order to mitigate existing biases against innovation, there is a need for a systemic approach for innovation. Such a systemic approach should include a focus on:

  • Clarity – ensuring there is a clear signal for public servants and stakeholders about innovation, what it is, why it matters and how it fits with other priorities.

  • Parity – giving innovation equal weight in decision making to counter the bias towards established courses of action.

  • Suitability – ensuring that investment and support do not flow only to established practices, and that new options are cultivated before old ones cease to be suitable.

  • Normality – aiming to make innovation part of day-to-day practice, rather than being seen as a side-project, unrelated to core business.

  • A mixed portfolio – ensuring a mix of innovation-based activities to cater for a range of possible needs and circumstances.

  • Stewardship – taking a whole-of-system view to ensure diverse innovation activity supports a coherent public sector rather than its fragmenting.

The Brazilian public service is already implementing a considerable range of activities to support innovation. This report uses three different scenarios to illustrate the different ways in which the system might develop further, and to explore what additional action, if any, might be needed. The scenarios highlight that there is not a perfect set of answers. Instead, regardless of the path chosen, there will be trade-offs among different considerations as the system evolves over time.

Finally, the report identifies a range of options for the development of a consistent, deliberate and reliable approach to public sector innovation in the Public Service of Brazil. These include the following priority action areas:

  • Establish an explicit agenda for public sector innovation. Without a vision of what is needed and why, it will be hard to overcome or change the status quo.

  • Identify and strengthen structural drivers for innovation. Without structural measures to balance or counter the inertia within the public sector, attempts to try new things will rely heavily on exceptional individuals, crises or political priorities rather than business as usual.

  • Establish explicit responsibility for the stewardship of public sector innovation. Without such systemic visibility, interventions will be steered by individual or siloed perspectives that may conflict with collective needs and ambitions.

  • Identify and articulate the roles of each of the major players. Without an explicit sense of the roles that exist, it is not possible to identify whether there is agreement about the roles that should be played or whether there are any gaps.

  • Articulate the links, overlaps and distinctions between digital transformation and public sector innovation. Without a sense of how agendas overlap, support each other or conflict, the digital transformation agenda will always win out as it is more immediate, tangible and resourced.

  • Explicitly identify how control processes such as audit and risk management can support a focus on innovation. Without such guidance and a demonstration of the complementarity of agendas, many public servants are likely to continue to view innovation as an unacceptable or unnecessary risk, regardless of need.

  • Provide an annual high-level commentary on the performance of the public sector innovation system at Innovation Week, on behalf of InovaGov, in partnership with other relevant ecosystem actors, such as universities and public think tanks. Without such visible reporting and reminders, it will be easy to lose sight of what has been achieved and what remains to be done.

  • Publicise innovation priorities. Without a clear sense of why and how innovation is needed, agencies and their partners, stakeholders and staff will find it difficult to identify shared opportunities and establish where innovative effort should be best directed.

Executive Summary