6. Using scenarios to help guide an evolving system

Innovation is a continual journey of discovery – of venturing into the unknown. There can be no certainty as to what should be done when it comes to innovation, as it will depend upon an ever-changing context. The need for innovation in Brazil will continually adjust as the context evolves – as new needs and issues arise and old ones change. This chapter explores three different scenarios to better illuminate the dynamics of the Brazilian system. Each scenario presents a different pathway illustrating how events in the Public Service could unfold, making explicit the underlying assumptions about what could happen and why.


Public sector innovation can occur for a range of reasons and for a range of purposes. Each of those reasons and purposes will reflect to some extent the context that they occur within. A focus that may be appropriate at one moment, such as digital transformation, may become less so as the process takes hold and new priorities or needs arise. Innovation occurs within a dynamic, ever-changing system, rather than one that is static; therefore, what is needed or wanted will continue to shift over time. As such, any take on a public sector innovation system needs to:

  • build on the past in order to understand where the system has come from and what is possible within that context (see Chapter 2)

  • appreciate the lived experience and the current state of the system in order to understand where the situation and strengths and opportunities of the system (see Chapters 4 and 5)

  • recognise that the future innovation journey may progress in multiple directions, and that interventions and investments need to be appropriate for a range of possible scenarios.

This chapter engages with this third element, exploring different potential futures as a means to test current assumptions, and ensure that identified opportunities for intervention are appropriate for a changeable future.

Scenarios of what could be

Rather than an act of forecasting or prediction, the scenarios presented here are a speculative extrapolation of particular pathways, each chosen to help consider how the system dynamics may unfold over time given different settings. Each of these pathways is a device to explore those different settings and their implications, and to consider what they might mean for current actions. These scenarios are deliberately designed as a means to test assumptions by making them explicit, not as an attempt to identify a preferred future. They act as both a caution against certainty about how the future may unfurl, and as an aid to avoid possible options where intervention is too tightly dependent on any one potential future.

Based on the analysis of the innovation system of the Public Service of Brazil, three scenarios have been developed:

  • The “Zero Scenario” explores how the system dynamics might play out if the present situation remains essentially the same. How might the system evolve if it continues broadly “as is”?

  • Scenario One explores what might occur if added attention, emphasis and resources were provided for public sector innovation, but without any drastic interventions. How might the system evolve if it builds on and expands existing activities?

  • Scenario Two illustrates a more radical possibility involving a dramatic transformation of the system such that public sector innovation is placed at the centre, and there is concerted and overarching effort to prioritise greater innovation in the pursuit of government and societal aims. How might the system look following radical transformation with innovation given priority over existing measures?

Again, the intention is not to predict or to prescribe, but rather to let the dynamics of the system play out through a range of possible scenarios, in order to make explicit potential assumptions about how the future might unfold.

As a starting point for the scenarios, Box 6.1 provides a critical review of the current state of affairs.

Box 6.1. A critical review of the current state of affairs

There have been repeated efforts to achieve debureaucratisation within the Public Service of Brazil, sometimes aligned with other contemporary reform agendas, such as New Public Management. In a post-military dictatorship context with concerns about corruption, there has also been repeated efforts to ensure that citizen rights are made explicit, that the public can play a role in oversight and input into government, and that there is a capable, but controlled, public service. While each of these differing concerns has touched on or shaped the environment for public sector innovation, there is as yet no consistent, cohesive or integrated narrative about why innovation matters, what it is needed for, or what role is expected of public servants and partners or stakeholders. Specific legislation, decrees and initiatives (such as InovaGov and ENAP training courses) have encouraged or built upon nascent appetite and capability for innovation within the public sector, but have yet to explicitly crystallise a sense of how innovation fits with the identity and story of the Public Service of Brazil.

A risk environment where individuals often perceive themselves as being personally accountable if innovation goes wrong has created a context where innovation is often directed into ‘safer’ spaces, where improvements are applied in controlled environments, and are largely incremental. These safer spaces include:

  • digital transformation, where the benefits of intervention are clear and the business case is relatively uncontroversial

  • activity where there is a clear mandate or functional responsibility indicating how innovation can add value, such as within state-owned enterprises or agencies with a clear and uncontroversial mission

  • areas that align with crises or government priorities where novel responses are required.

As previous reform efforts plateaued and the need for further reform became clearer (whether due to fiscal constraints or the insufficiency of existing measures), greater attention has been paid to innovation across the system. This included addressing a number of obvious limits within the system, such as capability gaps (e.g. skills and leadership), the information and confidence to innovate (e.g. networks, events, innovation labs and efforts to ensure compliance empowers rather than admonishes innovation), and system limitations (e.g. legislation and decrees to address procurement, risk environment and process issues). Each of these efforts has had a varying amount of influence on the system. As some of the efforts are in tension with the core characteristics of the public sector (e.g. attempting to modify the risk appetite in a system with powerful control authorities), it will likely take time before they are believed and perceived as sincere.

In addition, despite the gains made, innovation would appear to be driven more often by individual concerns and specific organisational priorities rather than underlying structural drivers or systemic perspectives. As a consequence, the innovation process is subject to siloed concerns rather than of whole-of-system needs. While a number of innovation labs and people are increasingly knowledgeable about innovation and the techniques and methods that can enable it, innovation has yet to be structurally integrated as a core responsibility or function at a widespread organisational level. This leaves it vulnerable to the movements of key people, and the strength of their motivations within a system sometimes hostile or inimical to innovation.

Where reform has experienced notable success at a whole-of-system level (e.g. the digital transformation agenda), this has driven particular types of innovation activity, such as enhancement-oriented and adaptive innovation, within limited, and likely hard to replicate, circumstances (e.g. dedicated resources, expertise, process enablers, clear mandate and expectations).

However, it is not yet apparent that digital transformation work is driving a diversity of innovation efforts (e.g. ensuring anticipatory or mission-oriented innovation), in order to address current needs and ambitions (e.g. the intersection of digital and equality), or those that might yet arise (e.g. how AI might change the public service as an institution). For instance, new operational/business models may be needed within government, yet the necessary experimentation will likely prove difficult in a risk averse environment with few slack resources or in the absence of mandates that are sufficiently loose to enable significant exploration of new approaches.

Public sector innovation as an agenda has been aided in particular by efforts from the Ministry of the Economy (formerly the Ministry of Planning, Development and Management) and ENAP, although others (such as TCU) have also made important contributions. However, the lack of a consistent, coherent and integrated narrative about public sector innovation is paralleled by a corresponding absence of clear stewardship. Different actors play important parts in regard to the functioning of the public sector innovation system, but discrete roles have not yet been articulated, and there is no overarching sense of what is needed. This state of affairs leaves innovation vulnerable to the whims of individual leaders and shifting organisational priorities.

In this environment there is an ongoing supply of innovative initiatives, as demonstrated by various innovation awards, yet no real sense of whether the innovation occurring is addressing the most pressing concerns. There is also no consensus as to whether the innovative projects that emerge are the best possible options, or whether the portfolio of innovative activity will be sufficient or appropriate to address issues yet to emerge. While channels exist to obtain citizen input, these are likely to be dominated by existing concerns, as opposed to newly emerging views or considerations that might arise in the future.

In such a setting, innovation is often driven by contextual factors, such as opportunities or problems identified by individuals, or in response to particular organisational missions, priorities or crises, or where there are resources, support and a clear mandate for tackling a specific issue (e.g. digital transformation). Such innovation may often be beneficial, addressing as it does specific issues or concerns; however, without more overarching oversight it is hard to identify the aggregate impact and interplay of specific innovations and whether they align with broader needs or concerns.

The “Zero” scenario: The system continues “as is”

Building on the elements described in this critical analysis, the Zero Scenario assumes that the system will continue “as is”, in the absence of any concerted effort to better embed or integrate public sector innovation as an agenda or function. Box 6.2 outlines the scenario.

Box 6.2. The “Zero” Scenario

Under this scenario, continued attention is paid to debureaucratisation, building upon the lessons of the multiple previous attempts. The digital transformation agenda assists in many ways, as the digitisation of services forces simplification for end users, and provides greater intelligence about how services are used and issues for citizens. Increased efficiency and transparency provide greater ease of use, but do not necessarily lead to greater trust in government. More avenues for citizens to critique the work of the public sector allow for greater identification of opportunities for innovation, but may lead to mixed signals about where innovation is appropriate or needed.

Fiscal constraints function as a clear driver over time, with increased effort around enhancement-oriented innovation that can improve efficiency and reduce costs, although at times this provokes tension within the public sector as it suggests the potential for job losses. In alignment with this, digital transformation enables the exploration of new business models for the public sector; however, these efforts, where they succeed, are heavily dependent upon consistent leadership from the top.

The introduction of new laws and decrees support or explicitly encourage public sector innovation. However, the time needed to penetrate and take effect results in a consistent lag between introduction and impact. As a result of previous reform efforts, system actors understand that any conflicts between new rules and other parts of the system will take time to be resolved, and that the decrees or laws may themselves soon be replaced with new ones. Nonetheless, such efforts help to lay the groundwork for further improvements and adjustments within the system, even if they do not provide an overarching narrative about why innovation matters, where it is most wanted or needed, or how public servants are expected to incorporate innovation as part of their identity as public officials.

Over time the efforts of the TCU gradually help people understand the complementarity between audits and innovation, both of which aim to do things better and improve results for citizens. Consistent attempts at “myth-busting” help system actors feel a little more confident about innovation, however audits sometimes blur the line as individuals are held to account for situations that others perceive, mistakenly or otherwise, to be related to innovation.

More training and the growth of innovative activity as a regular practice increasingly normalise innovation, with numerous examples of innovation contributing in useful and valuable ways to the work of the public sector. Loose networks become more sophisticated, and practitioners become better connected across the system, with lessons and the potential implications of innovation flowing more easily around the system. In combination with innovation awards, these networks increase the potential for replicating promising initiatives, though where there is an absence of clear mandates or permissions, this falters over time, as enthusiasm proves gradually insufficient in the face of structural barriers.

While some procedural barriers or hindrances to innovation, such as procurement difficulties, are gradually reduced or mitigated, their resolution begins to reveal other limiting factors, such as budgeting procedures and project management requirements, each of which requires further dedicated effort.

As the skills and leadership for innovation develop (spurred in part by the OECD review Innovation skills and leadership in Brazil’s public sector) innovation is better integrated into leadership competencies. However, a gap remains in terms of the structural integration of innovation as a core organisational function, leading to “islands of success”. Innovation labs continue to develop, but have difficulty advancing their agendas and are limited in their ability to influence the core business of the Public Service.

Some of the agendas in place help drive innovation activity but direct it in particular ways, resulting in a portfolio of innovation activity that may concentrate on certain forms of innovation. Other agendas that arise may, unintentionally, be in conflict or in tension with innovation, and will usually win out over innovation, as they are more concrete, tangible and measurable, whereas innovation, while increasingly understood, will remain inherently ambiguous and contextual.

The risks of the “Zero” Scenario

While some form of austerity or fiscal constraints arising from the constitutional expenditure cap will provide a platform for innovation, cost-cutting favours particular forms of innovation (e.g. efficiency seeking), at the cost of more radical forms that might provide more substantial transformation appropriate to a changed operating context. Relying on fiscal constraints to drive innovation, or attaching innovation to other agendas (such as digital transformation), risks leaving innovation vulnerable to the success of other reform agendas. Such an approach fails to shift the focus of innovation activity away from the individual and organisational levels, meaning that innovation continues to be driven by partial perspectives, rather than system-wide needs.

Box 6.3. A “Zero” Scenario wild card

Digital transformation success in an environment of complex policy issues

Under this “wild card” scenario, the work of the Public Service of Brazil gradually succeeds in transforming most services into truly digital services. These services are welcomed by citizens and the government begins to be perceived as a digital leader, rather than a follower. Increased real-time information about service performance, usage and the concerns of citizens empower the Public Service to react faster and better anticipate some potential issues. The example and influence of the federal government helps to encourage state and municipal governments to digitise more of their service interactions with citizens. Digital channels enable greater transparency and the possibility of more direct and specific feedback from citizens.

At the same time, inequality remains a dominant concern within Brazilian society. Real-time information provides a stark reminder of gaps in citizen experiences (e.g. health outcomes, safety and security, incomes and benefits) between different geographic regions and economic strata. Sophisticated digitised services are still matched with siloed bureaucratic structures constrained by a need for legislative clarity, despite heavily interlinked policy issues cutting across jurisdictional boundaries. In reaction to citizen dissatisfaction about the results of a number of policy agendas, the government increasingly responds with machinery of government reorganisations, attempting to match structures to the problem areas, and a specific ministry to pursue specific results. These responses continue not to meet expectations, and more radical interventions are called for in an effort to find a way for government structures and processes to better match complex policy concerns.

Outside of specific reform agendas, individual practitioners continue to be reliant on personal networks, skills and resilience to drive system change. While more people receive training in innovation, many do not experience opportunities to use these skills and techniques, while others risk outpacing their context, pursuing ideas that their institutional environment is not ready for or for which their colleagues do not yet see a need. While the financial benefits of the Public Service mean that many people will stay rather than leave to look for other opportunities, some will disengage from their work due to the gap between what may be possible and what they feel they have the permission or remit to do.

Audit activity increasingly identifies and codifies the gap between what is being done and what could be done, helping to encourage a pro-innovation bias. While there is a growing expectation that emerging issues should have been engaged with and anticipated, the structures and procedures of government do not facilitate this process. As a result, there is an ongoing emphasis on enhancement-oriented innovation and efficiency, with the side-effect of reinforcing existing approaches rather than allowing for new ones to arise.

Box 6.4. A “Zero” Scenario wild card

Creation of a strategic foresight lab

Under this “wild card” scenario, a new structure is created within the Ministry of Economy to assist with strategic foresight across the Public Service of Brazil, in order to better anticipate potential policy issues and demands. This strategic foresight lab brings in expertise from different domains, including industry and the academic sector. The lab not only looks at possible futures, but also conducts experiments to engage with weak signals regarding the changing operating context. While it receives some senior leadership support, the lab’s novel nature attracts particular attention from external stakeholders and the TCU.

The lab’s work to explore possible futures and question the fundamentals of the status quo increasingly finds itself in tension with many traditional features of the Public Service. Due to its involvement with issues that are yet to fully emerge and are thus impossible to describe or delineate in detail, it often comes up against existing processes and procedures. The lab’s staff spend increasing amounts of time navigating procedural issues and managing concerns about engagement with external stakeholders (e.g. the private sector), rather than undertaking core work. A change in senior leadership at the Ministry results in loss of sponsorship, and the lab soon becomes integrated into another functional area.

The implications of the “Zero” Scenario

This scenario helps to illustrate some of the likely limitations of the current settings. While it is likely that some or many of the existing interventions will have beneficial outcomes and continue to evolve into the future, it is also probable that they will be insufficient to elevate innovation to become a core reliable function of the Public Service of Brazil.

The scenario also helps to highlight some potential areas of concern going forward:

  • Legislation and decrees are likely to be a necessary but insufficient tool for long-term cultural change

  • Current “buy-in” to the innovation agenda is relatively weak, therefore maintaining engagement if and when settings more hostile to innovation arise may be optimistic. Support for innovation may dissipate outside of isolated areas where there is a sufficiently clear mandate and need for innovation

  • Exploration of new business models and experimentation for big shifts is limited and may leave the Public Service of Brazil at risk of being caught out by unanticipated shifts in expectations or needs

  • An articulated agenda around innovation would be beneficial in helping public servants assess how innovation fits with any other stated agendas of government

  • The risk environment means that innovation is unlikely to be normalised without some investigation of how it fits with existing processes, working methods and behaviours, including in relation to procurement and compliance issues.

  • The digital transformation will generate a lot of data about existing needs and issues. This may need to be complemented with “thick” qualitative data about emerging needs and unstated concerns shaping the upcoming or evolving expectations of government.

Scenario One: Building on and extending the system

Scenario One (Box 6.5) expands upon the elements in place and takes them further. Innovation receives more attention than it does under Scenario Zero, but not to the extent that it is radically prioritised.

Box 6.5. Scenario One

Under this scenario, the Public Service of Brazil formally adopts a narrative of the public service moving to a “start-up” culture, emphasising the need for greater risk tolerance, and the introduction of structures and processes allow public servants to work with external stakeholders and citizens. Formal mechanisms are introduced to enable greater experimentation, and budget and compliance processes are examined to assess how they might support rather than hold back exploration of new approaches. Digital transformation continues apace, resulting in greater performance data.

Debureaucratisation processes, such as gaining citizen and industry input into potentially overly bureaucratic procedures, are expanded, as are mechanisms for gaining richer insight into the experiences and needs of citizens and industry. It becomes easier for citizens and public servants to identify processes that may be holding back innovation, and to insist upon considered responses. A decree is introduced to link together other relevant decrees, and to make the agenda for public sector innovation more easily understood and its scope clearer. Certain pieces of legislation are reviewed to enable the Public Service to better work with external partners on priority areas.

Leadership competencies articulate clear expectations around innovation, and more agencies create specific roles or explicit governance around public sector innovation, including linking innovation labs more closely with core business and organisational priorities. Audit functions explicitly emphasise innovation as an expectation. There is a growing maturity in the practice of innovation, and different methods and disciplines are brought to bear in varying ways depending on the nature of the problem or the innovation being pursued.

Innovation week is expanded, with the annual headline event in Brasilia matched by events around the country, often organised in conjunction with state and municipal public sector agencies. The InovaGov network grows and is better integrated with the innovation training offerings of ENAP, innovation labs and other partners, providing a rich forum for informal learning and sharing. The network helps to connect practitioners with others, either as mentors, advisors or partners, to assist in pursuing cross-cutting ideas. Projects that win the innovation award receive formal support to explore how their projects might be scaled up or replicated across the Public Service, and to consider the possible ramifications.

Cross-government experiments in a small number of areas are commissioned to explore how ministries might better collaborate on cross-cutting issues. Waivers are introduced to allow the Public Service to work more closely with private sector providers, including start-ups and not-for-profits, without jeopardising compliance concerns on commercial neutrality.

Stewardship of the public sector innovation system is recognised as an explicit need, as diversified increased innovation activity gives rise to a growing number of experiments and approaches, risking coherence across the public service. ENAP, the TCU, the Ministry of Economy and others relevant bodies partner to develop some rudimentary, but explicit, forms of stewardship. Differing responsibilities for effective stewardship are identified and allocated between the different parties. The partnership includes the introduction of a portfolio approach to innovation across the system. This ensures a diverse mix of innovation activity (despite the default biases that promote activity in certain areas), as well as shared learning across the system that informs investment and practice, in order to avoid fragmentation from too many different projects.

The risks of Scenario One

This scenario examines the potential for a more explicit and emphatic approach to innovation, without fundamentally integrating innovation as a core ongoing function of the Public Service.

Debureaucratisation and digitisation improve the citizen experience in many arenas, however many of the more regular interactions with citizens become impersonal. Input channels for citizen engagement tend to favour issues that are more easily articulated or that reflect existing concerns, making it harder for the Public Service to understand more marginal or edge perspectives that are difficult to encapsulate into a neat case for change.

An increased focus on innovation leads to an expectation of greater results. This is sometimes in tension with the exploratory nature of innovation, where projects may not be able to prove a direct return on investment, especially if viewed as individual projects rather than as part of a portfolio. This is particularly the case where engagement and experimentation with start-ups leads to a range of high-learning but low-performance cases. Defences based on “we learnt a lot” fail to satisfy the demands of senior sponsors for proven results, particularly in an environment of increasing fiscal constraint.

Where innovation does have an impact, resulting in improved services and outcomes, this is likely to be insufficient to meet ever-changing expectations of government capabilities. The government’s ability to consider the implications of particular innovative steps, while improved, is limited, and the flow-on effects will often not be thoroughly thought through.

Box 6.6. A Scenario One wild card

Citizen demand for harmonised services across the country

Under this “wild card” scenario, ongoing inequality and policy failures at all levels of government result in widespread protests and an insistence on greater harmonisation of services and citizen outcomes across the country. This constitutes a considerable challenge for the constitutional federal system, and requires significant innovation and rethinking from all levels of government. While the federal bureaucracy has built up its innovation competency, this is not matched in every state and municipal government, implying considerable effort on the part of the federal government to achieve this transformation. Demand for innovation skills and training grows dramatically, and standard procedures are seen increasingly as being unfit for an environment of continual innovation.

Greater clarity about the agenda helps to empower leading practitioners, however this is not matched by the ability of government systems to engage and make use of the resultant innovations. While innovations relating to specific challenges are adopted and adapted, those that are more far-reaching or visionary often become stalled. Where these cases do proceed, the teams behind them outpace their agencies and surpass general readiness, leaving them vulnerable to scrutiny and loss of support.

Inevitably, an unanticipated policy challenge will demand a whole-of-government response. While traditional patterns of response may have often sufficed, some situations will require a collective approach to innovation that will stretch still-evolving governance arrangements and understandings between the key system actors.

Box 6.7. A Scenario One wild card

Breakthrough technology for human augmentation

Under this “wild card” scenario”, a Brazilian biotechnology start-up achieves a breakthrough enabling limited safe human augmentation, including health benefits and small but significant improvements to cognitive capacity. The technology is prohibitively expensive for the average Brazilian, but in reach of the well-paid, including senior federal public servants. The breakthrough provokes widespread social concerns, including apprehension from both liberal and religious conservative factions about how it fits with core Brazilian values. The technology is ruled as being safe in principle; however, it also raises concerns on a range of fronts relating to health, education, social cohesion and industry policy. The ability of the government to engage with this issue is limited, leaving the public sector open to criticism regarding its lack of attention to disruptive technologies and their implications at a whole-of-government level. The federal Public Service is perceived as favouring outcomes beyond the reach of most citizens and regarded with distrust.

The implications of Scenario One

This scenario demonstrates some of the potential issues that may arise as the sophistication of innovation grows, and its practice starts to more obviously clash with existing procedures, practices and behaviours. This eventuality includes several considerations:

  • As the level of innovation activity and support increases, the tensions with existing performance management and reporting will become clearer. For instance, demand may increase for developmental evaluation, which is more suited to dynamic, high-learning processes, than traditional post-hoc evaluations and reviews that presuppose a knowable preferred outcome.

  • Competency in innovation, whether at an individual, team or organisational level, is not the same as integrating innovative activity into core structures and processes, which involves adjusting some fundamental elements of the Public Service as an institution, such as planning, budgeting, management, reporting and compliance.

  • As innovation becomes more common, and more projects potentially interact with each other, the ramifications for the broader Public Service and its operations will require more active contemplation. The aggregation and interplay of differing innovations will have unexpected consequences that will require monitoring, management or mitigation.

  • Competence in innovation will likely vary significantly across the Public Service, with some areas achieving greater sophistication than others. However, citizen and government expectations are unlikely to include a nuanced appreciation of varying capabilities.

  • Governance of the public sector innovation system will need to prepare for crises requiring innovative responses, as well as potential push-back where innovation is felt to have surpassed citizen or government needs or expectations.

Scenario Two: Radical transformation of the system

Scenario Two (Box 6.8) envisions an abrupt break with the current state of affairs, where public sector innovation is elevated to centre stage in the public administration, supported by a belief that innovation will be essential in addressing the majority of policy and service delivery demands.

Box 6.8. Scenario Two

A series of new laws and decrees explicitly spell out innovation as a core enabling activity of the Public Service of Brazil to achieve political and societal objectives. This legislation is supported by the creation of a dedicated function, the Secretariat for Public Sector Transformation, located within the Ministry of Economy. The Secretariat is mandated to support government agencies in building their innovation excellence as well as providing stewardship and oversight of the public sector innovation system. This includes explicit attention to ensuring a diverse innovation portfolio across the sector.

The Secretariat works closely on matters related to the digital transformation, but its mandate is far more broad-ranging. It works with all support functions (e.g. HR, finance, procurement, budgeting, audit and evaluation) to stocktake existing processes and procedure, in order to assess how existing processes affect the ability of the Public Service to introduce new approaches. The Secretariat is also resourced to fund experiments for radical exploration of new approaches across the system, informed by performance information from digital services and debureaucratisation initiatives regarding the greatest potential for a new approaches. It pays specific attention to potential changes to business models needed to allow the Public Service to effectively engage with and respond to disruptive shifts, technological and otherwise.

As part of this role it works closely with innovation labs in different agencies, encouraging each ministry to have at least one such lab. It also works closely with ENAP on ensuring that all public servants receive some training, in person or online, on different elements of the innovation process. Specific training sessions are established to introduce and socialise disruptive technologies to senior leaders, and to help them become familiar with potential sources of disruption and innovation for the Public Service.

A priority for the Secretariat is the establishment of structural drivers for innovation. As a starting point, the Secretariat works with the control agencies to build in an explicit “risk of not innovating” component to their assessments, with a clear understanding that innovation is an integral and expected part of the delivery of any core public services. Any project unable to demonstrate that it has examined new alternatives is censured.

Over time, the Secretariat establishes more active and self-sustaining prompts within the system to spur innovation. These include a radical sunset clause on major processes requiring them to be reinvestigated every three years or be disbanded, as well as the creation of regulatory sandboxes to allow novel approaches to be trialled within the Public Service. These prompts spur much greater experimentation; however, fatigue and resistance increases over time as people begin to tire of continual change and have to continually relearn how core parts of the system actually work.

InovaGov becomes a formal platform for co-ordination and collaboration. Ministries and agencies use it to share lessons about what works and what does not, to collaborate on shared priorities, and to partner on specific projects examining ways to work differently in order to achieve better outcomes. Agreements are made between ministries to allow for cross-agency teams on a rolling project basis, entrenching whole-of-government approaches in priority issues.

Recognising the constraints of the existing system, a separate, semi-public body is established to investigate truly radical alternative approaches in collaboration with the private sector, not-for-profits and academia. Projects include an exploration of a possible future for the Public Service where 50% of the work is automated. While such work enables significant learning, many of the insights gleaned from experimentation are challenging to integrate back into the Public Service, as there is a gap between the innovation process and the current position of most public servants and organisations in their respective innovation journeys. There is also discomfort at what these radical visions of the future might mean for existing public servants.

The digital transformation work is used as inspiration to enable other platforms for state and municipal governments to innovate and use this process to better identify promising initiatives that could be replicated in other jurisdictions through shared infrastructure (e.g. digital platforms).

In keeping with the longstanding focus on debureaucratisation, any and all new services are required to be co-designed with citizens, and also involve methods such as speculative design and experiential futures to ensure they are mindful of a fast-changing environment.

This provides the starting point for much greater citizen engagement about current preferences, needs and desires, as well as active deliberation of potential future needs and wants.

Legislation allows for much greater engagement with the private sector in advance of formalising bids and contracts, enabling much deeper investigation of needs and potential solutions.

The risks of Scenario Two

Increased attention to innovation will bring into stark contrast tensions with previous ways of working, established behaviours and vested interests. Radical pursuit of public sector innovation as a means of achieving political and societal ambitions is likely to spur reaction and push-back from those who believe that the current system is sufficient or from those who are invested in the way things are currently done.

A more centrally overseen approach to innovation will sometimes sit uncomfortably with a more bottom-up approach spurred by individual agency contexts. Encouragement of innovation will spur many more ideas than the system will initially be able to deal with, making it difficult to maintain engagement, as traction with ideas may appear patchy to those attempting to contribute. Some actors in the system will be uncomfortable with the transformational approach and may either resist elements or take a “wait and see” approach, believing it will dwindle over time without requiring them to change what they do or how they do it.

Greater experimentation will inevitably result in more failures, which will require active defence and proclamation of innovation as beneficial and a source of rich learning. However, this defence may be used by underperforming areas when their failures relate to other, more conventional management issues. This can muddy the waters about what counts as real innovation or not. Corruption concerns may be exacerbated by this issue, along with closer engagement with the private sector, complicating the work of control bodies seeking to ensure appropriate oversight and not unnecessarily constrain innovation.

Box 6.9. A Scenario Two wild card

Radical transparency

Under this “wild card” scenario, a new social movement arises in response to continued concerns with corruption and bureaucratic dysfunction, demanding not just open government, but a completely transparent government. The government is forced to make transparent all its entire workings, including the development of services and the provision of advice. Such an environment unintentionally makes innovation more challenging in some ways, as the case for change is not always easy to articulate, sometimes being a matter of judgement rather than established fact. This inevitably forces a more explicit, process-oriented approach to public sector innovation, and eventually ensures that citizen voices and perspectives are brought in to help defend choices regarding which innovative projects or avenues should proceed.

While training is provided, the ability of core systems and processes to match the drive for innovation will initially be lower than needed. Experimentation will challenge budget, reporting and other processes, and time will be required to build up sophistication and adapt existing structures. This will likely result in missteps along the way, which could potentially undermine support for a concerted effort for innovation.

Extensive innovation is also likely to run afoul of Brazil’s highly legislative approach to the workings of government, where many functions need to be explicitly articulated in law. New approaches will often exceed permissions that are naturally built around what is known, thus requiring more novel approaches. They may also run into constitutional limits when the detailed codification of government comes into tension with the unknowable consequences of system-level innovation, which unlock new possibilities and engender new forms of working and relationships.

Box 6.10. A Scenario Two wild card

Competing states

Under this “wild card” scenario, a neighbouring country in the region pursues a strong digital transformation agenda and begins to make digital government services increasingly available to those in other countries at zero marginal cost. Aided by sophisticated automated translation and advanced machine learning, this government can provide citizens of other countries with a range of services once considered integral to the nation state. This spurs competition between governments, as well as some political discomfort. Even where citizens do not take advantage of the competing services (e.g. education and health, where national loyalties remain), growing realisation about these new possibilities results in greater demands of government.

The implications of Scenario Two

This scenario involves more uncertainty, as radical transformation will unlock previously inconceivable possibilities. The implications of Scenario Two include the following:

  • The core systems of government are often going to be slower to adapt than those at the edge. Accordingly, there is an ongoing risk that the overarching implications of individual innovations will be missed.

  • Governance and stewardship of the public sector innovation system will have to incorporate processes for deliberating over and managing competing visions of the future that underpin differing innovations. Experimentation and congruence will be in tension, and the centre will need to monitor this situation.

  • Individual innovations, either externally generated or internally created, will sometimes require radical rethinking of how government works. However, as these initiatives or projects will often emerge from line areas focused on specific contexts rather than the whole system, support for such radical rethinking will often need to come from elsewhere, including the centre.

  • Maintaining engagement in the agenda will be challenging, particularly in the context of individual project failures or sub-optimal results, even when these are a necessary part of the portfolio learning required to make progress.

Whatever the future, there will be trade-offs

The scenarios provided here are intended to test and expose underlying assumptions about how the system might unfold under different settings. It is not intended to prescribe or advocate a particular path or to suggest that any of these scenarios are likely futures. Any of the features currently considered fundamental to the system could change as a result of political, economic, social, environmental or technological changes, so there is no particular advantage in focusing on any one detail. The innovation journey will be unpredictable and changeable as events unfold in a dynamic system. The aim is therefore to ensure that the next steps in the journey are taken with an awareness that they could lead to very different ends.

The different scenarios do indicate that no future will be easy when it comes to innovation. Each will involve some degree of trade-offs or challenges. Whatever the path taken, the public sector innovation system will require ongoing active consideration and deliberation. The scenarios presented here are a tool to assist in navigating the future innovation journey as it unfolds, rather than providing a map of where to go next. The following chapter builds on this by considering some of the steps that might be taken, including for very different levels of ambition for public sector innovation in Brazil.

6. Using scenarios to help guide an evolving system