Academic journal article The Innovation Journal

Conceptualizing Public Innovative Capacity: A Framework for Assessment

Academic journal article The Innovation Journal

Conceptualizing Public Innovative Capacity: A Framework for Assessment

Article excerpt

Introduction

Due to political and societal demands public sector organizations are in a constant process of adapt to changing circumstances in order to remain effective, efficient and legitimate in dealing with societal problems and delivering public services. Accompanying changes may be incremental, when improvements can be achieved by relatively small adjustments within a dominant policy paradigm, or new technologies fit with existing regulations, but may also be larger, when fundamental change is needed to maintain, improve or alter the service level of the public sector organization. The call to foster and fasten innovations in the public domain is expressed by many think tanks and governmental organizations like the World Bank and the OECD. This raises the question what capacities public sector organizations need to be able to deal with the different challenges of realizing incremental change as well as radical innovation

In this article, we consider innovation in the public sector as the implementation of a new (technical, organizational, policy, institutional or other) concept that changes and substantially improves the functioning and outcomes of the public sector, thereby creating public value (Moore, 2005). This idea, practice, or object is perceived as new by an individual or other unit of adoption (Rogers, 2003: 12). As Van de Ven (1986) states, innovation may be defined as the development and implementation of new ideas by people who over time engage in transactions with others in an institutional context. Moore and Hartley (2008) formulate concisely: "innovations are new ideas and practices brought into implementation". Osborne and Brown (2005: 4) define innovation as the introduction of new elements into a public service, which represent a discontinuity with the past, as opposed to incremental change, which concerns gradual improvement or development, representing continuity with the past. We recognize four important aspects in these definitions: the fact that public organizations may be faced, due to internal or external pressures, with the necessity to innovate to be able to realize their task of rendering high quality services to society, that to this end new ideas are only the start of the process, implementation is the final goal and test, that both people and institutional context are important, and that innovation concerns radical, discontinuous change.

Public sector organizations are embedded in policy subsystems or regimes (Geels, 2002; Loorbach, 2010) with a societal function which are often rather stable during longer periods of time and becomes change-resistant due to the development of routines and institutional patterns (Baumgartner and Jones, 1991, Sabatier and Jenkins-Smith, 1993, Rip and Kemp, 1998). This presents a challenge to the involved organizations and individuals when internal or external developments require a radical change of policy, practices or technology, while at the same time other developments can be dealt with in more continuous change processes. For public organizations it is important to combine the ability to radically transform and to gradually adjust in order to ensure public value and maintain legitimacy.

In this article we present an integrative framework of the capacities public organizations need to be able to innovate while at the same time continuously improving their services and processes . Although several reviews on innovation in the public sector are available (Osborne and Brown, 2011, Sørensen and Torfing, 2011, De Vries et al., 2015) this is not the case for public sector innovative capacity. This framework synthesizes three different bodies of literature dealing with the issue of innovation and brings together their main insights on what constitutes innovative capacity. In the next sections (2 - 6) we discuss a multilevel and multidimensional framework for innovative capacity. Finally we discuss some challenges related to this framework and reflect upon its added value. …

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