Public sector innovation uses new approaches to create public value for individuals and for society. It is changing how the public sector operates to deliver better outcomes: in Finland, socially excluded people are getting free medical checks in bars or on the street through a new mobile health check system. It is developing effective collaborations with other actors to target public resources where they are needed: in Mexico, people living in rural areas do not need to travel long distance to get public services and can get social transfer and other payment services at the nearest gas station or village store. It is helping to build more inclusive, open and caring societies, enhancing trust among citizens: in France, families are helping old people with no family connections to live autonomously in a caring environment by sharing housing facilities and common space.
This creates new spaces to challenge the architecture of problems, overcome old administrative legacies and channel public resources to where they are most needed. Participatory budgeting schemes, regarded as a powerful innovation, are being used across the world, distributing opportunity more equally across society.
Generating public value through innovation is complex and challenging for governments. Innovation runs contrary to the perceived role of bureaucratic organisations. Innovation is new, unknown and risky; by contrast governments have a statutory duty, democratic responsibility and political mandate to deliver public services in consistent and equal ways. Managing these tensions can be complicated for governments, where the risk of innovating appears far greater than the risk of maintaining the status quo. Nor does innovation sit well with the control function of hierarchies which, while they ensure stewardship and accountability over the use of resources, they tend to discourage risk-taking.
Yet the context in which most governments find themselves today alters the risk equation. Growing fiscal austerity, social inequality and changing demographics are just some of the forces putting extraordinary pressures on the public sector to transform itself. The nature and scale of these challenges require responses that are not geared around incremental process improvements, but rather strategic improvements to how governments frame problems and develop solutions. This requires governments to be able to generate new solutions underpinned by new principles, rather than on improving and refining existing ones. While innovation has always played a part in the development of the public sector, this is arguably the first time that the sector has been under such radical pressure to fundamentally transform the focus of innovation itself thereby creating new opportunities to embed innovative processes.
The forthcoming report on Fostering Innovation in the Public Sector provides a thorough examination of the following themes in innovation: