8. Conclusion: Moving innovation from the sporadic to the systemic

This chapter builds on the identified underlying determinants of public sector innovation system performance, the assessment of the Canadian system using those determinants as lenses, and the three scenarios for future pathways, to consider which options might help build an innovation system that is more consistent, reliable and systematic in producing innovative outcomes that deliver value for Canadian citizens.

    

The practice of innovation often encourages “a bias to action”, a recognition that in situations of high uncertainty, sometimes the best thing to do is to just do something. In addition, while often perceived as masters of inaction, public sector bureaucracies can actually be very reactive in practice, quick to respond to (politically potent) problems in some way (although this does not guarantee the sufficiency or efficacy of the responses). The public sector can also be an environment where “busy work” proliferates – where doing things is validated, as activity is equated to effectiveness (this is perhaps part of the reason why many governments have encouraged a shift from looking at outputs, to looking at outcomes).

In short, there can be a number of biases within the realm of public sector innovation that encourage action when problems are identified.

However, this bias to action can sometimes favour a reactive approach. A problem is identified, and the problem as it presents itself suggests one or more possible solutions, which can then be chosen from and enacted. Then the next problem is moved onto.

This review has hopefully helped to illustrate the limitations of such an approach. In a dynamic innovation system, there will always be new “problems” or factors impacting the ability to consistently and reliably draw on innovation as a resource. As soon as one problem is tackled, another weakness with the innovation system will reveal itself or unintended side effects will emerge, as the performance of the system will always be limited by its weakest link(s). Given this, a traditional central command and control approach of identifying and responding to each problem in turn is both unsustainable and infeasible.

Rather, the underlying drivers and factors for innovation need to be understood, and this act of understanding needs to involve a wide range of actors within the system, so that as and when issues arise, they can be collaboratively responded to in a more decentralised but still collective fashion. Not everything will need to be signed-off on from the “top” – a true bias to action can only be enabled if there is a collective sense of what is needed.

The ability for this to happen however will be limited by the extent to which there is a collective vision and purpose for the system, and one that has wide buy-in. In the absence of such a vision, the system will continually fragment, as sub-parts of the system, organisations or individuals respond to its more immediate needs. Individual and organisational priorities, which by definition will be divergent, will dominate over system-wide priorities.

Given this dynamic, it is not the aim of this review to provide discrete static recommendations that may (or may not) be enacted, and that would regardless soon be overtaken by events and thus no longer reflective of the context, or suitable. There is no single prescribed state for the innovation system of the Public Service of Canada; therefore, there is no one set of answers for what needs to be done. There can only be guidance.

To be effective, this guidance must be grounded in the reality that Public Service innovation is characterised by a high level of uncertainty. This uncertainty reflects in part the Canadian context and the desire for innovation. While it has been established that the Public Service of Canada’s ability to consistently and reliably innovate includes unmet ambitions, there is uncertainty as to what such innovation might actually look like and mean for how the Public Service sees itself. There is also significant uncertainty around what constitutes a public sector innovation system.

As the first of its kind, this review is an initial attempt on the part of the OECD to assess a country’s public sector innovation system. It is, therefore, something of an experiment, which again increases the associated uncertainty. Thus, any guidance must be tempered with a degree of humility and recognition that there is still much to be learned.

Having noted these caveats, this review has provided an extensive in-depth exploration of the context of the Public Service of Canada. It has considered what can be learned from theory and practice around the world, and it has introduced a new model and framework to equip and empower actors to navigate the innovation journey and to adjust as the context changes and the system evolves.

This rest of this chapter seeks to recap the major points from each of the preceding chapters, and to pull together the collective implications. These should not be seen as formal recommendations, but rather suggestions that can be acted upon by actors from across the system.

The story so far

How can the Public Service of Canada realise its ambition to be able to consistently and reliably draw on innovation in order to achieve government priorities and deliver on citizen expectations? Each of the chapters in this review has explored a different aspect of this question.

Chapter 2 explored the historical innovation journey of the Public Service of Canada, and established the following points:

  • There has been a long history of innovation, but this has not always been comfortable, and finding the right balance between innovation and delivery, and between control and empowerment, has not been easy.

  • Innovation is hard, or it likely would have already been mastered. The Public Service of Canada has been engaging with innovation and renewal for a considerable time, which suggests that additional, consistent effort is required.

  • It is not enough to do the obvious. Much of the apparent “low hanging fruit” of possible actions to encourage, foster or support innovation have been picked, and found to be insufficient. New approaches are therefore needed.

  • Beware innovation theatre. Whenever leadership emphasise innovation, there will naturally be activity that seeks to reflect this stated desire. Some of this activity will, either through intent or lack of understanding, be superficial, rather than engaging with the difficult work of questioning current assumptions and practices, and truly considering how and why things might need to be different.

  • The informal is as important as the formal. Informal networks can be useful avenues, to spread learning and allow groups to converge (and disperse) around particular issues or practices.

  • There are repeating patterns and path dependencies that highlight the need to understand history. Innovation provides a means of sharing lessons across specific domains that might otherwise be only seen through functional (e.g. procurement) or policy area (e.g. health) lenses. However, this can only occur if there is a collective innovation history; otherwise, the same issues are likely to recur over time.

The implications of Chapter 2 include the need to:

  1. 1. Both codify and keep alive the history of innovation. Past steps along the innovation journey should be recognised and recorded. However, these steps should be viewed not just as part of the past, but also as lessons to be remembered and learned from, so that history can be built upon rather than repeated.

  2. 2. Foster a system of informal and formal initiatives. A robust innovation system will be one that has informal as well as formal initiatives.

  3. 3. Connect innovation efforts with explicit aims and strategic interests. This will help avoid, or at least minimise, innovation theatre. While innovation efforts may not always be definitive or set in stone, as innovation will sometimes be very exploratory, there should still be an articulation of what purpose they are intended to fulfil. In some areas, that purpose may be just to advance curiosity-driven activity and the adoption of new methods and tools or ways of doing things.

Chapter 3 investigated the factors driving a need for a more sophisticated and systemic approach to innovation by governments. It outlined some of the nuances of public sector innovation and their implications for attempting a systemic approach to public sector innovation. While identifying that existing knowledge is insufficient for guiding a systemic approach, the chapter also identified three core concerns governments need to pay attention to – using innovation to deliver on the priorities of today, for delivering on the challenges of tomorrow, and ensuring innovation readiness – if they are going to be effective.

The implications of Chapter 3 include the need to:

  1. 1. Take a systemic approach to public sector innovation, so that innovation can be changed from something that is often a sporadic, ad hoc activity, to one that can be drawn on consistently and reliably to deal with current, emergent and future demands.

  2. 2. Provide stewardship for the system. A robust and sophisticated innovation system will involve ongoing discovery, multiple streams of activity, and collective input. The various elements of the system will require some degree of stewardship – not control or hard guidance – that can help pull the different threads together.

  3. 3. Ensure a diverse portfolio of initiatives to allow for and encourage different forms of innovation. Some activities (e.g. the experimentation commitment) will foster all types of innovation, whereas other types will need to be targeted specifically (e.g. providing some degree of autonomy and resources to areas undertaking longer term exploratory and potentially disruptive innovation, such as around AI).

Given the absence of clear existing guidance about understanding public sector innovation systems, Chapter 4 then explored the current lived experience of innovation in the Public Service of Canada. This experience was used to provide insight into the underlying nature of innovation, and the fundamental determinants of innovation performance at a system level.

The implications of Chapter 4 include the need to:

  1. 1. Ensure an ongoing sense of the lived experience of innovation. As innovation frequently relies on individuals going above and beyond, or stems from organisations responding to crises or priorities, innovation performance is particularly vulnerable to shifts in what the practice of innovation “feels like”. Seemingly unrelated events can quickly affect individual, and even organisational, appetites for innovation; thus understanding the lived experience on an ongoing basis will be important. This may be aided by quantitative data, but it is likely that qualitative data from design-led approaches will be most effective in this respect.

  2. 2. Support, build on and learn from areas of strength within the system. It is clear that there are, and have been, significant pockets of innovation activity. Some of these have led to significant developments (e.g. the Carrot Rewards partnership, the Free Agents programme/GC Talent Cloud work, behavioural insights practice and the GC platforms), which offer great potential. While it will be important to foster and direct innovation towards mission-led work (e.g. such as through the Impact Canada Initiative), these other pockets may be the source of transformative thinking.

Drawing on the insights from lived experience, Chapter 5 introduces a model for public sector innovation built on the four underlying drivers of innovation: reason for, possibility of, capability for and experience of innovation. It suggests three different analytical lenses – individual, organisational, and systemic – and identifies how the underlying drivers manifest differently at each level. It examines the tensions involved with each of the system-level manifestations, and the need for balance in each of them. The model is then used to introduce a framework of possible action areas that could help achieve the right balance. The chapter also suggests a possible maturity model for what differing levels of sophistication for a public sector innovation system might look like.

The implications of Chapter 5 include the need to:

  1. 1. Take a system-wide view of public sector innovation, across the multiple initiatives, activities, ambitions and actors, including those outside of the Public Service itself. This could align with the earlier identified need for stewardship of the system.

  2. 2. Engage with the ongoing work of the OECD’s Observatory of Public Sector Innovation to monitor how, or if, the model and associated framework evolve.

  3. 3. Further develop international networks to learn from the experiences of other national governments. The particular strengths (and weaknesses) of other systems will help illustrate different system dynamics, and highlight what types of interventions may be best suited for supporting different aspects of a public sector innovation system.

Applying this model and framework to the context of the Public Service of Canada, Chapter 6 examines the aggregate impacts of existing initiatives and activity and how they satisfy the need for clarity, parity, suitability and normality. It notes that many of the initiatives are relatively recent, and therefore their impact cannot really be assessed as yet, while many of the issues identified may resolve themselves over time.

The implications of Chapter 6 include the need to:

  1. 1. Ensure there is clarity about innovation. Current initiatives have done a lot to establish this, but further attention is warranted in the following respects:

    • Provide public servants with greater opportunities to actually engage in the practice of innovation

    • Consider how the innovation agenda, and its intersection with other existing agendas of the Public Service of Canada, can be better communicated, including to external actors

    • Formally identify or map how different actors fulfil different functional roles and/or the capabilities that they are best placed to offer in the innovation system. This should include some indication of what might be expected, and what can be offered, by private and third sector actors

    • Undertake an exercise to develop a renewed narrative of how the Public Service of Canada sees itself and its innovation journey. This should help to emphasise the preceding efforts (and challenges), and long history of engagement with innovation, and articulate how innovation is integral to the identity of the Public Service.

  2. 2. Ensure there is parity between innovation and business-as-usual in the consideration of options. A number of initiatives have helped, or promise, to demonstrate that the status quo can be challenged, but further attention is warranted in the following respects:

    • Investigate of more open and deliberate processes, such as explicit mechanisms of challenge, that allow for unexpected issues to be identified and considered as appropriate

    • Leverage existing communities of practice or cross-agency networks to have a formal role in surfacing ideas and issues that might otherwise be likely to encounter bottlenecks

    • Facilitate the finding of allies/building of coalitions around emergent issues, particularly at a cross-agency level. This could be aided by creating or explicitly identifying innovation-specific networks or forums (e.g. across the innovation labs and hubs)

    • Give consideration to further structural drivers, such as the experimentation commitment, to mediate or mitigate the structural drivers that exist for risk aversion.

  3. 3. Ensure system suitability to be able to respond to or take advantage of the upcoming innovation opportunities. While existing initiatives may go some way to addressing this, further attention is warranted in the following respects:

    • Centrally encourage agencies to identify peers that they can learn from/with, in order to help them keep pace with external changes

    • Examine, and consider introducing additional ways by which new technologies (and their implications) can be better socialised within the Public Service of Canada

    • Formally identify and make explicit the different mechanisms by which significantly new projects can be undertaken (e.g. have a pipeline for designated projects with potentially disruptive effects)

    • Building on existing initiatives and work, give consideration to how the changing expectations of citizens can be better understood, and how those insights can be made meaningfully tangible in order to be used as drivers for change.

  4. 4. Ensure that innovation becomes part of the normality of the Public Service of Canada. Some action is already underway in this regard; however, further attention is warranted in the following respects:

    • Undertake an exercise to explicitly reflect on existing behaviours that are preferenced in the work of the Public Service of Canada, and consider whether or how they might sometimes conflict or compete with behaviours that are more supportive of innovation

    • Ensure that recognition efforts make stories of “day-to-day” innovation accessible and shared, along with instances of innovation being instrumental in high-profile work

    • Engage in proactive communication regarding the innovative work of the Public Service of Canada, to help contribute to citizen trust in the public sector, and ensure that the Public Service is seen as a competitive and interesting employer when competing for skills and capabilities

    • Undertake proactive war-gaming by central actors on how an inevitable innovation-related “failure” or scandal might play out.

Given the recent nature of many of the relevant initiatives, a longer-term view will need to be taken to gauge their effectiveness and impact upon the overall performance of the public sector innovation system. As an aid to this, Chapter 7 considers three different possible futures in the form of scenarios – what might happen if things continue as is, what might happen if additional efforts were undertaken, and what might happen if a radical transformation that placed innovation at the centre was to be pursued. These three scenarios help explore the different system dynamics at play, and reflect upon how events might unfold.

The implications of Chapter 7 include the need to:

  1. 1. Develop a common narrative for innovation and a shared mental mode within the innovation community. The review could provide a starting point for this.

  2. 2. Ensure innovation is explicit in agency strategic plans.

  3. 3. Make innovation explicit in performance management – with a positive failure component – and steward and evaluate the practice rigorously.

  4. 4. Assign clear functional responsibilities to the Task Force on Public Sector Innovation, and clarify how other parts of the system are expected to support or link into the broader innovation agenda.

  5. 5. Build in a rotational basis for the leadership of the Task Force and rejuvenate the membership to challenge informal power structures and group think.

  6. 6. Develop a collective purpose-driven vision for the innovation system.

Key areas of opportunity

Taken together, these implications from previous chapters offer ways for the Public Service of Canada to better enhance its evolving public sector innovation system. The following section outlines suggestions for roles that different parts of the system could play to assist this process. These are not intended as prescriptions, but rather as starting points for discussion about how to best support the evolution of the system to help deliver on the expectations of the Government (and citizens) of Canada.

Central agencies as stewards

As previously noted, an innovation system left to its own devices will likely fragment. A robust system that contributes towards collective goals will thus involve a degree of stewardship. While many will play a role, it will be easy for any individual actor to lose sight of the collective picture. Stewardship may involve having a sense of how things are tracking, where things should be heading, who is doing what and who is good at what, and what is working and what is not. Given the high level of uncertainty, stewardship may also involve ensuring there is ongoing reflection, monitoring and learning.

Such stewardship will require influence that will need to come from the centre, albeit with the support of other areas.

In this regard, the review suggests the following particular stewardship roles or tasks:

  1. 1. Develop a living history of innovation in the Public Service of Canada. This would be a collective resource outlining important developments and milestones in the innovation journey of the public service, and including key examples. Such a history should help provide a better sense of how innovation “fits” with the journey, history and traditions of the Public Service of Canada.

  2. 2. Formally identify, map or otherwise make explicit the various roles the actors involved play or can/could fulfil in the innovation system, and the different capabilities they are best placed to offer. These roles should not be prescriptive, particularly as more is learned about the capabilities of different actors, but neither should they be without responsibility or accountability.

  3. 3. Develop a collective purpose-driven vision for the innovation system, building on the work presented in this review. Such a vision should provide a compelling narrative about why innovation matters to the Public Service of Canada.

  4. 4. Develop mechanisms (including reporting instruments potentially through a dashboard approach) of key innovation projects and initiatives, to help ensure a balanced portfolio of innovation. While agencies will have their own interests and priorities, there will need for a collective understanding of where efforts and resources are being expended, and whether or how this fits with collective needs for experimentation, exploration and emergent innovation.

  5. 5. In conjunction with existing events and activities (e.g. the Innovation Fair, Policy Community Conference, etc.), undertake short exercises to gather a sense of the lived experience of innovation in order to help identify emergent issues or trends in the practice of innovation that might require intervention or monitoring. Such exercises, which may be informal (e.g. occasional design-led engagements with public servants), should provide an ongoing means to gauge how the innovation system is performing.

  6. 6. Encourage, support, build on and learn from the areas of strength and positive deviance within the system. This may be aided by a mix of recognition, validation and legitimation, studied indifference or careful “not noticing”, depending upon the nature and stage of the initiatives. Such fostering of positive deviance should aim to help public servants understand what is already possible within the system.

  7. 7. Recognise and make accessible “day-to-day” stories of innovation to ensure a balance between innovations contributing to high-level government priorities, and recognition of the contributions of public servants from across the entire spectrum of government operations.

  8. 8. Engage with the ongoing work of the OECD’s Observatory of Public Sector Innovation and the National Contact Points working group to aid learning about the international practice of public sector innovation.

  9. 9. Building on initiatives such as Canada Beyond 150, continue to find ways to provide public servants with greater opportunities to engage in the practice of innovation. In particular, consideration could be given to initiatives that can be more easily scaled or run autonomously.

Central agencies as administrators

Central agencies also play an important role in their more directive capacities as rule setters, signal senders and compliance owners. This administrative role includes considering what signal is being sent to agencies and staff by policies and processes, in particular, finding and maintaining an appropriate balance between ensuring appropriate controls and providing sufficient empowerment for new approaches to be tried and tested. It also involves tackling misperceptions and removing blocks when appropriate, but being careful not to let areas run too far ahead of emerging competency. Additionally, central agencies play an important role in defending those taking good risks, and ensuring resources are allocated appropriately (including removing resources from approaches that are no longer suited or are obsolete).

In this capacity, central agencies can:

  1. 10. Encourage agencies to incorporate innovation as an explicit element in agency strategic plans. This should ensure that innovation is more than a rhetorical inclusion, and that it addresses innovation as a core competency for agencies.

  2. 11. Investigate and introduce further structural drivers, similar to the experimentation commitment, which can help mediate or mitigate the structural forces that promote (unnecessary) risk aversion. This work might identify options for finding ways to ensure that the risk of not innovating is given equal procedural weight as the risk of innovating.

  3. 12. Encourage agencies to explicitly identify peer organisations they can learn from/with about keeping pace with external changes.

  4. 13. Undertake war-gaming to explore potential responses to an inevitable high-profile innovation-related failure or scandal (perceived or otherwise), so as to help ensure that unavoidable learning points/incidents do not jeopardise the wider agenda.

  5. 14. Engage in proactive communication of the work of the Public Service of Canada to help contribute to citizen trust in the public sector, and to ensure that the Public Service is seen as a competitive and interesting employer when competing for skills and capabilities.

Cross-agency leadership

It is suggested that cross-agency leadership could assist with the following areas:

  1. 15. Formally identify and make explicit the different mechanisms or avenues by which significantly new projects can be undertaken within the Public Service. This work should identify a workflow and pipeline for how potentially significantly disruptive projects can be begun and supported. This would help both send a signal, and also reveal potential limits in current approaches that may be inhibiting more exploratory projects.

  2. 16. Consider how the changing expectations of citizens can be better understood, and how those insights can be made meaningfully tangible in order to be used as drivers for change. This could draw on existing initiatives and work, and should pay particular attention to ways to convert relatively weak signals (feedback or noticed changes in citizen engagement with government) into something sufficient to register as a driver for change.

  3. 17. Assign clear functional responsibilities to the Deputy Minister Task Force on Public Sector Innovation, and identify how other parts of the system are expected to support or link into the group and the broader innovation agenda.

  4. 18. Build in a rotational basis for the leadership of the Deputy Minister Task Force on Public Sector Innovation and rejuvenate the membership to challenge informal power structures and group think.

GC Entrepreneurs

The GC Entrepreneurs are a new group, thus it is too early to be precise about their role in the broader system. However, it is suggested that in addition to their emerging work programme, the GC Entrepreneurs could play two additional roles:

  1. 19. Act as ambassadors for the innovation system review to help socialise its findings, and use that experience to feed in to certain stewardship responsibilities (e.g. mapping of actors and responsibilities).

  2. 20. Examine additional possible ways to better socialise new technologies (and their implications) within the Public Service of Canada.

Other agencies

Given that the public sector innovation system is a collective system, responsibilities should be shared. Other agencies can play a number of roles, either individually or collectively, depending on their interest, ability and opportunity. In particular, other agencies could perform the following suggested roles:

  1. 21. Undertake a joint exercise to develop a renewed narrative of how the Public Service of Canada sees itself and its innovation journey. Such a narrative should recognise the preceding efforts (and challenges), and long history of engagement with innovation, and articulate how innovation is now integral to the identity of the Public Service. The narrative should be explicit about how innovation fits with the role of public servants and their organisations, and what it means to be an innovative public service/public servant.

  2. 22. Identify how the innovation agenda, and its intersection with other existing agendas of the Public Service of Canada, can be better communicated, including to external actors. Such consideration should provide clear guidance to any actor about how innovation fits with other priorities, and how to reconcile instances of tension or competition.

  3. 23. Investigate the potential for more open and deliberate processes, such as explicit mechanisms of challenge, which would allow for unexpected issues to be identified and considered. These mechanisms might be used both for internal processes (where there are identified blockers to promising innovation) and externally (when outside actors identify, flag or nominate potential blocks).

  4. 24. Encourage existing communities of practice or cross-agency networks to identify their role, if any, in surfacing ideas and issues that might otherwise be likely to encounter bottlenecks. A core part of this encouragement would be ensuring that relevant staff feel empowered to participate and contribute.

  5. 25. Facilitate the finding of allies/building of coalitions around emergent issues, particularly at a cross-agency level. In particular, this could be aided by creating or explicitly identifying innovation-specific networks or forums, such as one for the innovation labs and hubs.

Individual organisations

Individual organisations can also contribute to the effective functioning of the public sector innovation system, in regard to their own operations. To do this well, agencies may wish to consider their relative innovation strengths and resources and their own innovation investment and portfolio. In particular, they could take the following suggested actions:

  1. 26. Concretely connect innovation efforts with explicit aims and strategic interests, in part to try and avoid unnecessary innovation theatre, including through agency planning and prioritisation. This might identify areas where innovation is needed (perhaps in part drawing on the Results and Delivery agenda and areas of identified shortfall).

  2. 27. Identify the organisation’s relationship with the broader innovation system and consider what roles are wanted in the system (e.g. acting as a source of excellence in a particular methodology, engaging with particular disruptive technologies, exploring particular methods of delivery), then reflect on whether existing decisions and priorities align with them.

  3. 28. Make innovation explicit in performance management, with a positive failure component, and steward and evaluate the practice.

  4. 29. Assess whether existing practices and processes contribute to responsibility for innovation residing at the individual level, or whether the organisation helps contribute to a collective innovation process that is informed by more than immediate organisational priorities.

Senior leaders

Senior leaders play a range of important roles in the innovation system, not least in relation to clarity (What signal is being sent to staff? Are they being given the opportunity to engage with innovation?), parity (What ideas are seen as acceptable? What room is provided for new thinking?), suitability (What is being invested in? Is a portfolio approach being taken?) and normality (What is encouraged? What is reinforced?). Senior leaders can consider their own contribution to the system, and how or whether they are fostering an environment where others feel willing to explore and test new ways of doing things in order to achieve better results. Senior leaders have a range of demands placed upon them, and their ability to get “hands on” with innovation is often likely to be limited, but there are some suggested areas of opportunity for an interested leader:

  1. 30. Ask to be surprised – encourage staff, through whatever means deemed most appropriate, to provide briefings or advice about new things that are either being done in the agency or that have been identified as potentially impacting the work of the agency, and that you would not be expected to know about.

  2. 31. Invite in esteemed external stakeholders or experts to share leading edge developments in other sectors or similar organisations, and then ask for specific proposals from staff about how such experiences might be relevant to the agency.

Middle managers

As discussed in Chapter 4, middle managers can sometimes be perceived as a problem when it comes to innovation; however they can also be key enablers. Middle managers seeking to better engage with and enable innovation may want to consider the following:

  1. 32. Ensure that your appetite for risk is clearly communicated and clarify what can be done without the need for permission. The novelty of innovation usually implies a lack of precedents by which to gauge what is allowed/not allowed, and the system usually defaults to a preference for the latter. Therefore, middle managers can help by ensuring that their staff have a clear sense of when permission is not required.

  2. 33. Request staff to test and workshop innovative ideas and proposals with their peers, so that scarce decision-making time is limited to concrete and tangible proposals.

  3. 34. Identify and communicate the priority business areas where change is needed and new approaches are sought.

Other interested individuals

Other interested individuals, no matter where they are in the system, can also contribute in a variety of ways. Suggested areas of opportunity include the following:

  1. 35. Reflect on what innovation means to you and to your work. How do you relate to the innovation system, if at all? If not, why not? If change is going to occur, consider what that might mean for how you see your role and how you can best contribute.

  2. 36. Look for opportunities, small or otherwise, to engage in new practices, to use new methods or tools, or to try different things in your current role.

  3. 37. Consider how to best access and share learning about innovation.

An ongoing learning journey

As noted earlier, there is still much to be learnt about the functioning of public sector innovation systems, and what interventions might be the most effective in ensuring that a civil service can draw on innovation as a consistent and reliable resource for achieving government priorities. In part, this is due to the fact that public sector innovation systems are, in general, still fragmented and emergent; thus, they are systems where it is possible to miss things, misunderstand things or where circumstances will change quickly. As such, the present review may not have gotten everything right, or may have only got it right for “right now”.

The review has attempted to mitigate this risk by providing an underlying model which describes the major forces of relevance, rather than elaborating too much on specific structural or process matters that can easily change. The review has also taken the step of providing significant in-depth information about how OECD arrived at the model and the findings, so as to allow for potential “reverse engineering” of the underlying thinking if/when needed. If any element of the “diagnosis” should later be found to be wanting, the rest of the identified “symptoms” are still available for review.

It is also hoped that by sharing this level of detail the review will aid others who are investigating public sector innovation, whether they take the form of other countries, institutions or research bodies attempting to better understand what makes for a high-performing innovation system.

The next chapter quickly examines how other countries or (potentially sub-national) governments might use this report.

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