Innovating for Impact in Public Policy

Post by Derek B. Miller and Lisa Rudnick: “Political systems across democratic countries are becoming more ideologically and politically divided over how to use increasingly limited resources. In the face of these pressures everyone wants results: they want them cheap and they want them now. This demand for better results is falling squarely on civil servants.

In the performance of their jobs, everyone is being asked to do more with less. This demand comes independent of theme, scope, or size of the public institution. It is as true for those working in transportation as it is for those in education or public health or international peace and security; whether in local government or at UN agencies; or else in the NGOs, think tanks, and community-based organizations that partner with them. Even private industry feels the squeeze.

When we say “do more with less” we mean more impact, better results, and more effective outcomes than ever before with less money and time, fewer people, and (often) less political support.

In taking a cue from the private sector, the public sector is looking for solutions in “Innovation.”

Innovation is the act of making possible that which was previously impossible in order to solve a problem. Given that present performance is insufficient to meet demand, there is a turn to innovation (broadly defined) to maximize resources through new methods to achieve goals. In this way, innovation is being treated as a strategic imperative for successful governance.

From our vantage point — having worked on innovation and public policy for over a decade, mostly from within the UN — we see two driving forces for innovation that we believe are going to shape the future of public policy performance and, by extension, the character of democratic governance in the years to come. Managing the convergence of these two approaches to innovation is going to be one of the most important public policy agendas for the next several decades (for a detailed discussion of this topic, see Trying it on for Size: Design and International Public Policy).

The first is evidence-based policymaking. The goal of evidence-based policymaking is to build a base of evidence — often about past performance —  so that lessons can be learned, best practices distilled, and new courses of action recommended (or required) to guide future organizational behavior for more efficient or effective outcomes.

The second force is going to be design. The field of design evolved in the crucible of the arts and not in the Academy. It is therefore a late-comer to public policy…(More)”