Focus: Innovation in the Public Sector – Interview of Prof. Victor Bekkers

Photo: Erasmus University Rotterdam

1) What is innovation in the Public Sector?

Victor Bekkers: Innovation in the public sector refers to the learning capacity of public sector organizations to explore and implement transformative changes as a way of coping with all kinds of socio-economic, socio-cultural and political challenges in its environment. These transformative changes do not only refer to the organization and management of public sector organizations but also to the way in which government organizations deal with societal challenges, like the unemployment, the ageing of the population, unemployment etc. Hence, innovation in the public sector also refers to new ways of developing and implementing public policies, to new forms of governance. At this moment we see that innovation in the public sector is fuelled by two developments. One the one hand the necessity, also in relation to severe cutback operations, to think about a retreat of government in society, thereby rethinking its role and position; and on the one hand to ensure public services that really address the needs of citizens, companies and societal organizations, which also influence the legitimacy of government.

2)  Could you provide us with an example of innovative practice in the Public Sector?

V. B.:At this moment we witness an interesting change in the way in which public services are being created. We see that these services are the outcome of a process of co-creation with citizens and companies work together with government organizations to produce more need-driven and more cost-efficient services.  Self-organization plays an important role in the development of these services in which government organizations play a supporting role. For instance, in the Netherlands we observe the emergence of neighborhood companies that to a large extent are exploited by citizens. Government organizations facilitate this process, by bringing relevant parties together, by guaranteeing that this company can make use of a building in which activities can be organized.

3) What is the added value of innovation in the Public Sector? 

V. B.: The added value of innovation in the public sector is that it focusses on how responsive or how resilient is our existing public sector in addressing the challenges with which societies wrestle. And, how can we create a public sector that is able to cope with these challenges? And in a broader sense, what is the role of government in our present society?

4) What are the drivers and barriers of innovation in Public Sector?

V. B.:There are a lot of drivers and barriers to be mentioned. However, the most important issue is the way in which we approach public sector innovation. Public sector innovation is very often the outcome of a process in which different, but very often interdependent organizations, organizational units as well as people, stemming from the public and private sector, are able and willing to link and share vital resources (e.g. knowledge, information, expertise, people, money, contacts) that are needed to explore new ways of thinking and working, are willing to experiment in relation to the needs of citizens.  Hence, it is important to address public innovation in terms of connective capacity and connective leadership.

5) What context can support innovative practices?

V. B.:It is important that in the public sector there is room to experiment, that there are spaces  (‘safe havens’) in which a process of trial and error can take place, and thus that things can might go wrong; that there are places where people can meet and experiment. Hence, a supportive and protective political and administrative climate is very essential.

6)    Victor, you are leader of LIPSE project, how does this research contribute to innovative practices?

V. B.:  The LIPSE project is and 7th framework project that is subsidized by the European Union and that focusses on the drivers and barriers behind social innovation in the public sector. In this project eleven EU countries participate. The identification of these drivers and barriers may help policy makers to set up and implement innovation practices that can make a difference, that act as a ‘game changer’. Moreover, it also tries to understand how the state tradition or governance tradition in a policy sector influences innovation capacity. Furthermore, it also wants to get a better insight which factors stimulate or frustrate the adoption of innovation by other countries and other organizations.  LIPSE started in February 2013 and will last for 3,5 years.

7)    How can IIAS, OECD and LIPSE cooperate in this perspective?

V. B.:  These three partners cooperate together because they all share the same idea that an innovative public sector is necessary to deal with the changing needs of societies and people, thereby ensuring the legitimacy of government. They work together in setting up a working group on innovation in the public sector, in which policy makers and academics can meet, can share ideas and knowledge. Moreover, such a working group may also facilitate the creation of networks across borders.


Bekkers, V. J. Edelenbos & B. Steijn (eds.) (2011), Innovation in the public sector: Linking capacity and Leadership:  Houndsmills: Palgrave McMillan

Osborne, S. & L. Brown (2013), Handbook of Innovation in the Public Services, Cheltenham: Edgar Elgar.


Prof Victor Bekkers – Profile

Victor Bekkers is since 2012 professor of public administration and public policy at the department of Public Administration of Erasmus University Rotterdam.  He studied political science and public administration (cum laude) at the Radboud University of Nijmegen and he obtained his Ph.D. in 1994 at Tilburg University, while being involved at the department of public administration, first as an assistant and later as associate professor.  Between 1998 and 2002 he worked as senior and principal consultant, this in combination with a special chair at Erasmus University in ICT infrastructures in the private and public sector.  His research interests are focus on two closely related questions. First, how and why do information and communication technologies as well new media influence the content, course and outcomes of policy, public service and governance processes in the public sector?  And secondly, what are relevant drivers and barriers that influence the innovation capacity of public sector organization and policy networks in order to deal with relevant societal challenges and what does this imply for the governance of public sector innovation?

 In trying to answer these research questions, he has published numerous articles, book contributions, books and reports.  Relevant articles can be found in Public Management Review, Public Administration, Government Information Quarterly, Information Polity, International Review of Administrative Sciences, International Journal of Public Administration, Policy and Internet.  He also wrote and edited a large number of books. The most important ones are Visual Culture and Public Policy (Routlege, 2014), Innovation in the Public Sector (Plagrave McMillan, 2012), Governance and the Democratic Deficit (Ashgate, 2007) and The information ecology of e-government (IOS Press, 2004).

On a regular base he also advises all kinds of government agencies on these matters. For instance, he is a member of the advisory group that advices the OECD on public sector innovation. Furthermore, he is also the chair of the IIAS working group on public sector innovation, as well as the co-chair of the IRSPM special interest group on public services innovation.

Given these research interests he momentarily coordinates a large EU-research project (7th framework program) that is focused on analyzing the drivers and barriers behind social innovation in the public sector (LIPSE project, see  This project is carried out in twelve European countries and it lasts from February 2013 untill June 2016.

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