Enhancing Social Innovation by Rethinking Collaboration, Leadership and Public Governance

New paper by Professors Eva Sørensen & Jacob Torfing: “It is widely recognized that public innovation is the intelligent alternative to blind across-the-board-cuts in times of shrinking budgets, and that innovation may help to break policy deadlocks and adjust welfare services to new and changing demands. At the same time, there is growing evidence that multi-actor collaboration in networks, partnerships and interorganizational teams can spur public innovation (Sørensen and Torfing, 2011). The involvement of different public and private actors in public innovation processes improves the understanding of the problem or challenge at hand and brings forth new ideas and proposals. It also ensures that the needs of users, citizens and civil society organizations are taken into account when innovative solutions are selected, tested and implemented.
While a lot of public innovation continues to be driven by particular public employees and managers, there seems to be a significant surge in collaborative forms of innovation that cut across the institutional and organization boundaries within the public sector and involve a plethora of private actors with relevant innovation assets. Indeed, the enhancement of collaborative innovation has be come a key aspiration of many public organizations around the world. However, if we fail to develop a more precise and sophisticated understanding of the concepts of ‘innovation’ and ‘collaboration’, we risk that both terms are reduced to empty and tiresome buzzwords that will not last to the end of the season. Moreover, in reality, collaborative and innovative processes are difficult to trigger and sustain without proper innovation management and a supporting cultural and institutional environment. This insight calls for further reflections on the role of public leadership and management and for a transformation of the entire system of public governing.
Hence, in order to spur collaborative innovation in the public sector, we need to clarify the basic terms of the debate and explore how collaborative innovation can be enhanced by new forms of innovation management and new forms of public governing. To this end, we shall first define the notions of innovation and public innovation and discuss the relation between public innovation and social innovation in order to better understand the purposes of different forms of innovation.
We shall then seek to clarify the notion of collaboration and pinpoint why and how collaboration enhances public innovation. Next, we shall offer some theoretical and practical reflections about how public leaders and managers can advance collaborative innovation. Finally, we shall argue that the enhancement of collaborative forms of social innovation calls for a transformation of the system of public governing that shifts the balance from New Public Management towards New Public Governance.”