Academic journal article The Public Manager

Building Innovative Bureaucracies: Change, Structure, and the Science of Ideas; A New Series on Innovation in Bureaucracy Lays Down a Foundation and Explores the Mechanics of Innovating in the Public Sector-Maturing from an Organization That Is Change Averse, to Change Cognizant, to Change Capable, and Finally to Change Centric

Academic journal article The Public Manager

Building Innovative Bureaucracies: Change, Structure, and the Science of Ideas; A New Series on Innovation in Bureaucracy Lays Down a Foundation and Explores the Mechanics of Innovating in the Public Sector-Maturing from an Organization That Is Change Averse, to Change Cognizant, to Change Capable, and Finally to Change Centric

Article excerpt

Does innovation have meaning for today's public manager? If so, what is that meaning and how does it translate into a practical lever for making government better? This article is the introductory frame for an "Innovative Bureaucracies" series that will seek to address these very important questions to the practice of public management. Edited by the newly-initiated Center for Innovation in Public Service at George Washington University's School of Public Policy and Public Administration, the series will use the foundational discussion of innovation that is presented in this article to explore the mechanics of innovation in public management. In doing so, we hope to provide insight that will make this often ambiguous and "corporate" concept a tangible, executable reality for the public manager.

Innovation is one of those ambiguous terms like leadership that often carries a legacy of connotation in organizations. Although much more of a badge in the corporate world, innovation at times has been heard to echo in the halls of government. Still, the idea of bureaucracy does not exactly flow naturally into this idea of innovation. In a sense, bureaucracy and innovation do not seem to share much in common. Bureaucracy is built of structure--of tradition, stability, and predictability. Innovation, though, is fluid, flexible, and dynamic, with its value derived from the qualities of "newness" and unrecognized potential. Possibly for this reason, the idea of innovation in bureaucracy just does not seem to materialize well. In the absence of the competitive market forces that drive innovation in business, innovation in bureaucracies seems to be even more insubstantial and illusive. But does this signal that innovative bureaucracies are unachievable, or even unnecessary?

Meeting the Challenge of Contemporary Public Service

On September 11, 2001, the World Trade Center ceased to exist. A little over a year later, the space shuttle Columbia disintegrated upon reentry into the earth's atmosphere. Although there was a great deal that was different about these two events, there was at least one thing that was similar-that each represented a significant breach of expectations for many in government, and in the larger society. These events reminded us, as many have in years past and undoubtedly many will in years future, that change and flexibility are phenomena that government does not have the luxury to ignore. In the world of terrorism, globalization, and technological revolution, hyper-change is the reality. As a result, a government that can address the issues of this world succeeds to the degree that it can reflect these changing needs in its services-whether the need is stopping a new method of terrorist access to aircraft or catching a malfunction that has developed recently on a spacecraft.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

As Bill Gates has been noted to say, "Microsoft is always only two years away from failure." For the public manager, the lessons pointed out in the preceding paragraph indicate that the proximity of critical failure often is even closer in government. How does the public manager respond to these perpetually evolving challenges of great magnitude? At a fundamental level, the response seems to involve "getting better at government." And if you survey the landscape of projects within your agency, things seem to be going in that direction. Improvement projects abound. Initiatives are too many to count. However, a closer look at Bill Gates' statement provides an extremely valuable insight--in the word always.

Constant Renewal

Unfortunately, for all of the improvement in government, the "always" seems to get left out frequently. When we take a closer look at most government improvement projects, we see exactly that--that they are projects. In response to legislation, a new reporting procedure is implemented. In response to new leadership, a new plan is enacted. …

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