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A framework for public sector innovation
25 March 2019

A framework for public sector innovation

Despite working in a public sector innovation agency for over 6 years I never knew there was an OECD Observatory of Public Sector Innovation.  Well there is and its website is chock full of tool kits and case studies from around the world.

Unlike many clearinghouses – I’ve found this one is really attuned to the needs of public and community sector professionals.  It’s practical and there are lots of good tools and insights that will assist you if you are in the business of improvement or innovation.  You can find it at:

In my experience – there are ongoing debates and discussions about precisely what innovation is in public and community sector settings.  Is it about disruption and ground-breaking change or does it refer to improvement and incremental change. Or is it some form of hybrid.

The Observatory of Public Sector Innovation (OPSI) sees public sector innovation as a ‘many-splendoured’ thing. Innovation has many ‘facets’ or aspects, each of which can look quite different and can involve very different things with differing aims. OPSI has identified four facets:

  • Enhancement-oriented innovation often starts with the question of “How might we do X better?” It is not about questioning what is being done, but rather how it is done and whether it can be done differently, and hopefully better.
  • Mission-oriented innovation is about asking “How might we achieve X?”, with X ranging from the world-changing (going to the moon) to the significant but relatively contained (ensuring better services). It starts with a driving ambition to achieve an articulated goal, though the specifics of how it might be done are still unclear or are not set in stone.
  • Adaptive innovation starts with the question “How might our evolved situation change how we do X?” Adaptive innovation is essentially about a realisation that things are happening that don’t fit with what is expected.
  • Anticipatory innovation starts with the question of “How might emerging possibilities fundamentally change what X could or should be?”, with X being the relevant government response or activity. Anticipatory innovation is essentially about recognising and engaging with significant uncertainty about not only what works, but also what is appropriate or possible.

I find this a really helpful schema to think about innovation in the public and community sectors.  If you want to read more there is a great report on recent innovation initiatives from across the world (including a number of Australian examples) that illustrates and illuminates this framework at: