Focus : Innovation in the Public Sector


The public sector is wrestling with vital challenges that impact on its legitimacy, effectiveness and efficiency. Currently, the most visible is the financial crisis in Europe which forces governments to reconsider the ways in which they provide public services. The ability of the public sector to respond to these challenges influences the viability of the public sector and the services that are provided, especially if one acknowledges that the public sector plays an important role in European societies and economies. In addressing these challenges, it is important to look at the innovation capacity of the public sector as well as its capacity to adopt new innovations. The exploration and exploitation of this innovation capacity requires public sector organizations that are able to incorporate and link knowledge, views, interests and resources in their innovation processes in order to achieve outcomes that are considered as appropriate for and by the stakeholders involved. This is the essence of social innovation. As such, social innovation in the public sector refers to the development of innovations, and their diffusion and adoption that are responsive to the needs of citizens, companies, non-governmental organizations and other stakeholders. The articulation of these needs can be viewed as relevant inputs for social innovation processes. Simultaneously, it is important to understand how these needs are organized within the innovation process itself. That is why innovation studies emphasize the idea that innovations are the result of a process of co-creation and collaboration among relevant actors. Citizens are important actors in these processes, albeit that their position – in contrast to well organized and institutionalized interests and interest groups – is rather weak. Further, the involvement of many stakeholders and the ensuing dialogue makes public sector innovation processes rather complex and dynamic. This influences the successful governance of these processes in terms of risk selection and management.

IIAS Study Group on Learning from Innovation in Public Sector Environments

The rationale behind the study group is to systematically identify relevant drivers and barriers, and to systematically study the outcomes of public sector innovations. It is important to assess innovation processes and outcomes not only by looking at the efficiency and efficacy gains that these social innovations deliver, but also to look at the extent to which other relevant political and societal values (such as equity, fairness, access) are realized. The implication is that, although we can learn from private sector innovation, we have to take account of the specific institutional features of the public sector. These institutional features constitute the context in which innovation takes place within the public sector. Furthermore we want to explicitly take into account a comparative perspective, in which different state and policy sector traditions are considered in reaching an understanding of these drivers and barriers. The added value of this comparative approach is that cross-national and cross-sectoral learning is facilitated, and that policymakers and academics are enabled to learn from one another. Moreover, it will help policymakers to develop policies and instruments that recognize the different state traditions while improving the evidence-based character of their policies.

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