Assessing Policies, Programs and Other Initiatives to Promote Innovation in the Public Sector: International Case Studies




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Promoting Innovation in the Public Sector: Case Studies




Management Advisory Committee Report 9 - ANNEX 1


Assessing Policies, Programs and Other Initiatives to Promote Innovation in the Public Sector: International Case Studies


Don Scott-Kemmis

November 2009


The Challenge of Sustaining Innovation in the Public Sector


Assessing Policies, Programs and Other Initiatives to Promote Innovation in the Public Sector: International Case Studies


Contents

Summary 3


A Framework for Assessing Policies, Programs and

Initiatives to Promote Innovation in the Public Sector 6


B. Case Studies:

B.1 United Kingdom 28

B.2 Canada 44

B.3 Singapore 60

B.4 Netherlands 68

C. Prior Research on Public Sector Innovation

– References. 79

Summary

The factors that are driving the strong interest in innovation in the public sector are likely to increase. This will ensure that greater innovativeness in the public sector will remain a priority. These factors include the increasingly pervasive role of ICT, and the resulting transformative changes in organisation, services, culture and relationships, and social expectations regarding the quality of service delivery, openness, accountability and opportunities for participation in policy development. Another set of drivers arise from the rising importance of innovation (for competitiveness, sustainability, security etc) and the recognition of the importance of innovation in all aspects of industrial and social activity (ie in organisation, services, institutions, policies etc). A dynamic national innovation system requires a dynamic and innovative public sector.


The primary purpose of this paper is to review the approaches to public sector innovation through case studies of four comparator countries: the UK; Canada; Netherlands; and, Singapore. Our focus is on: the extent to which improving innovation performance in the public sector is a goal; how that goal is being pursued; and, what has been achieved.


While all of these countries have a history of innovation in the public sector, the focus on that dimension of performance is quite recent. There is a diverse range of case studies of public sector innovations and some surveys, but there is little systematic analysis. There are even fewer evaluations of the recent initiatives to raise innovation performance. The available information tends to be more normative than analytical and more descriptive than evaluative.


The report prefaces the case studies with a discussion of the challenges of innovation, particularly in the public sector context. These include recognising that:

  • there are many types of innovation and different degrees of novelty and discontinuity - the innovation management systems that are appropriate for incremental innovation are unlikely to be effective for the much greater challenge of innovation involving higher levels of discontinuity with established structures and norms;

  • the innovation process involves mobilising a widening range of stakeholders, addressing an range of performance criteria, and driving the development of the innovation, along the path from conception to implementation;

  • an organisational capacity for innovation is embodied in individuals and in the structures, routines, culture and norms of an organisation – this capacity must be built through what is essentially a learning process, it is not simply a question of declaring new priorities;

  • the capabilities and processes that underpin the capacity for innovation are to a large extent organisation and context-specific, they have relevance and value in the context of the strategies of an organisation, and they are shaped by an organisation’s past strategies – ie the challenges it has addressed;

  • the relationships between capabilities, processes, culture and strategy on the one hand, and the various mechanisms for their adaptation, upgrading and integration on the other, constitute an organisational innovation system - building robust innovation systems at the organisation level will be the foundation of public sector innovation, just as innovation systems at the firm level are the essential foundation of national innovation systems.


Those challenges have significant implications for the development and implementation of measures to raise innovation. Innovation cannot be simply another objective added to the already demanding list of outcomes. It is a systemic challenge that will involve a process of change in organisations and their external relationships.


Over recent years public sector agencies in many countries have become more innovative as a consequence of developing new approaches to service delivery or policy. Many have also developed initiatives to foster innovation as a goal in itself. Initiatives to promote or support innovation include:

  • central units, funds, or competitions at the public sector level that promote innovation or mobilise resources for specific innovations;

  • units or programs at the agency/department level that promote innovation or mobilise resources to support specific innovations;

  • measures at the overall public service level to build resources to support innovation through eg on-line resources, training, research, surveys etc;

  • measures at the overall public service level to develop external bases of support through external innovation support units or research and training programs as independent entities or in collaboration with eg universities;

  • measures to embed an orientation to innovation in strategies, audits, performance criteria, benchmarking, selection criteria etc.


The paper provides examples of each of these types of initiatives and identifies key challenges for their implementation.


The four case studies are organised in seven sections: the contextual, policy and organisational drivers for innovation in the public sector; the scope of innovative activity; the role of IT; the specific initiatives that are being used to promote innovation; the features of the public sector context in the case study country the outcomes of initiatives; and the lessons learnt.


The UK has recently developed a strong focus on innovation in the public sector. It is a component of the national innovation strategy and a wide range of organisational units and programs have been created to drive this agenda. There has been a substantial effort to review experience, develop new metrics and case studies and adapt approaches. The measures to promote innovation are driven from the centre of the public sector but implementing change at the grass roots level is slower and more challenging. Australia can learn a great deal from the UK experience.


Canada provides a contrasting case. Here innovation is less a high level goal than an outcome of a range of measures which more directly influence behaviour at the grass roots level. A focus on service improvement, adapting audit approaches to address risk management, the promotion of best practice guidelines, the provision of innovation ‘toolkits’, and a well established national innovation award program direct incentives and support those responding to specific challenges in their domain of responsibility.


Singapore is perhaps a unique case; a small and dynamic country where the public sector has a pervasive role in the economy and society. Within an overall policy of continuous improvement there is a strong emphasis on empowerment, responsibility and innovation throughout the public sector. The Enterprise Challenge is a major program run from the Prime Minister’s Department that selects innovation projects, both major and minor and proposed from within and outside of the public service, for funding and fast tracking.


The Netherlands is similar to Canada in that innovation is an element of a broader focus on service improvement, joined up government and the development of e-government approaches. But there has been a particular emphasis on policy innovation. For several years the Netherlands has been developing a distinctive and participative approach to the evolution of policy for addressing complex challenges, such as the transformation of the economy and society toward environmental sustainability.

A. Framework for Assessing Policies, Programs and Other Initiatives to Promote Innovation in the Public Sector


1. Introduction

While there has been over the last few years a sustained increase in the emphasis on innovation in the public sector it remains the case that the basis of systematic empirically-based analysis remains limited. The empirical base is limited both with regard to the nature of innovation in the public sector – its drivers, characteristics, barriers etc – and also to the types of innovation support initiatives that are effective.


It is clearly the case that the recent focus on innovation in the public sector isn’t because the public sector has recently become innovative. In many countries the public sector has been highly innovative, and it appears that it has become more so over time. It is the case however that there are rising expectations on the public service to deliver better services and policies in new ways, at lower costs, and often in response to increasingly complex issues. It is also the case that, with the extraordinary potential of IT, and the high level capabilities of the human resources in the public services, there are opportunities to deliver on those expectations.


The ‘knowledge base’ for informing initiatives to increase innovation in the public sector derives from the large body of knowledge about innovation in the private sector (although the extent of applicability to the public sector is uncertain), a large number of case studies (often based on quite different methodologies and with considerable uncertainty about the extent to which experience in one type of innovation in one context provides general lessons), some broad surveys of innovations (usually derived from applicants who are winners in innovation award competitions and often without a rigorous conceptual methodology), some more systematic survey-based studies, fairly normative frameworks based on direct experience, and/or involvement in research in particular domains.


Drawing on this diverse literature a framework has been developed to guide the development and interpretation of a set of case studies of how a number of comparator countries are responding to the challenge of raising the level of innovation in the public sector. This framework is outlined below. Our primary interest in these case studies is in how that goal is being pursued and what has been achieved.


The following discussion in this introductory section is organised into the following four sections:

  • What is Innovation in the Public Sector?

  • Managing Innovation: Processes, Competencies and Context

  • Addressing the Challenges of Managing Innovation in the Public Sector.

  • Promoting Innovation in the Public Sector: Developing Competencies and Processes and Improving the Context.



2. What is Innovation in the Public Sector?

The drivers for innovation in the public sector arise from several sources, that are more or less common to the public sector across the OECD, and include: pressure on government budgets; rising public expectations for more accessible and flexible services and greater participation in service and policy development and review; and complex social, environmental and economic challenges. The more proximate drivers arise from: the priorities of politicians; the specific problems that arise in areas of policy, administration, and services; and, the identification of options for improvement.


The term ‘innovation’ is a heterogeneous category. The Publin project1 provides the following examples of innovation in the public sector:

  • new or improved services (for example, health care at home)

  • process innovation (a change in the manufacturing of a service or product)

  • administrative innovation (for example, the use of a new policy instrument, which may be a result of policy change)

  • system innovation (a new system or a fundamental change of an existing system, for instance by the establishment of new organizations or new patterns of co-operation and interaction)

  • conceptual innovation (a change in the outlook of actors; such changes are accompanied by the use of new concepts, for example integrated water management or mobility leasing)

  • radical (or paradigmatic) changes of belief systems or rationalities (meaning that the world view or the mental matrix of the employees of an organization is shifting, eg joined-up-government)


A complementary set of categories is that of Bekkers et al.2 :

  • Product or service innovation, focused on the creation of new public services or products.

  • Technological innovations that emerge through the creation and use of new technologies, such as the use of mobile devices and cell broadcasting to warn citizens in the case of an emergency;

  • Process innovations, focused on the improvement of the quality and efficiency of the internal and external business processes, like the direct filing and automated assessment of taxes;

  • Organizational innovations, focused on the creation of new organizational forms, the introduction of new management methods and techniques, and new working methods. Examples are the creation of shared service centres or the use of quality systems;

  • Conceptual innovations. These innovations occur in relation to the introduction of new concepts, frames of reference or even new paradigms, like the concept of New Public Management or the notion of governance; and

  • Institutional innovations, which refer to fundamental transformations in the institutional relations between organizations, institutions, and other actors in the public sector. An example is the introduction of elements of direct democracy, through referenda in a representative democracy.



While the terminology is far from consistent, ‘systems innovation’ and ‘institutional innovation’ is similar to what is elsewhere termed ‘innovations in governance’. There is certainly a good deal of evidence that: “..we seem to be going through a revolution in the governance of public production systems as governments seek to reach beyond their borders to find additional resources, additional operational capacity, and even additional legitimacy to achieve their assigned goals [in some cases] innovations involve new ways of knitting elements of different organizations together to create a more effective problem-solving approach to a given problem.. These shifts, in line with other changes associated with ‘networked governance.3p 5-6.


These forms of innovation in governance are likely to change information and resource flows, and lead to changes in the behaviour of other actors in the target or related ‘systems’, and in so doing stimulate other innovations. A recent review emphasises the increasing importance of innovations in governance and draws out the distinctive characteristics of these types of innovation:

These innovations change production systems that cut across the boundaries of organizations, not just those of a single organization. They enlarge the range of resources that can be tapped to enlarge and improve the performance of the production system. They involve changes in what instruments government uses to animate and direct the production system for achieving the desired goals. They alter the configuration of decision-making rights with respect to how private and public resources will be used. And they raise important questions about the distribution of burdens and privileges in the society.” p.184


It is often far from clear how one might allocate a particular innovation to one of these conceptual categories. For example, Sabatier (1993, p.19) defines policy learning as “a relatively enduring alteration of thought or behavioural intentions that are concerned with the attainment (or revision) of the precepts of a policy belief system’”5. There is also a need for some caution about the extent to which generalisations about the management of innovation apply with equal appropriateness to all types of innovation. While all of these types of innovation may be cases of the general definition – the effective application of a new idea - there are nevertheless many differences among them. Mechanisms that are effective in promoting one type of innovation may be ineffective for others.

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