Re-thinking Public Innovation, Beyond Innovation in Government

Jocelyne Bourgon at Dubai Policy Review: “The situation faced by public servants and public sector leaders today may not be more challenging in absolute terms than in previous generations, but it is certainly different. The problems societies face today stem from a world characterised by increasing complexity, hyper-connectivity and a high level of uncertainty. In this context, the public sector’s role in developing innovative solutions is critical. Despite the need for public innovation, public servants (when asked to discuss the challenges they face in New Synthesis1 labs and workshops) tend to present a narrow perspective, rarely going beyond the boundary of their respective units. While recent public sector reforms have encouraged a drive for efficiency and productivity, they have also generated a narrow and sometimes distorted view of the scale of the role of government in society. Ideas and principles matter. The way one thinks has a direct impact on the solutions that will be found and the results that will be achieved. Innovation in government has received much attention over the years. For the most part, the focus has been introspective, giving special attention to the modernisation of public sector systems and practices as well as the service delivery functions of government. The focus of attention in these conversations is on innovation in government and as a result may have missed the most important contributions of government to public innovation….

I define public innovation as “innovative solutions serving a public purpose that require the use of public means”9. What distinguishes public innovation from social innovation is the intimate link to government actions and the use of instruments of the State10. From this perspective, far from being risk averse, the State is the ultimate risk taker in society. Government takes risks on a scale that no other sector or agent in society could take on and intervenes in areas where the forces of the market or the capacity of civil society would be unable to go. This broader perspective reveals some of the distinctive characteristics of public innovation….(More)”