A scan of the Israeli public sector innovation system

Written by , Innovation Specialist on 14 January 2020

Making the invisible visible. While this is one of my favourite phrases from our 2019 Global Trends report, it is also the phrase I find myself using to describe OPSI’s work with public sector innovation systems. We try to make the implicit explicit to allow people within the system to reflect “is this what we want and intended? If not, what can we do to change it?”

And every system is unique and the evolution of the innovation system is rarely linear. Each public sector has its own context filled with unique history, priorities, challenges, and experiences with innovation. These diverse histories have also led to a diverse range of activities that countries are undertaking to advance their own innovation agendas, such as improving innovation skills, leadership, portfolios, adoption of new technologies, stewardship, and evaluation.

Because of the diversity of ambitions and activities, the demand and interest in innovation can look very different. In order for OPSI to best serve differing public sectors around the world, we need to constantly explore and test new collaboration methods so as to have a diverse range of tools and methods that can be matched to a country’s context.

Recently, OPSI worked with the Elka Partnership (a partnership between 7 Israeli ministries – Prime Minister Office, Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Health, Ministry for Social Equality, Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs and Social Services, and Ministry of Education – and the Elka Institute for Leadership and Governance of JDC Israel) to develop a first-of-its-kind ‘scan’ of the Israeli public sector innovation system. This scan draws from our innovation system study work, but tries to provide more of a snapshot assessment of the system, with key questions that require further research or that can act as a prompt for further discussion.

You can find the Initial Scan of the Israeli Public Sector Innovation System here.

Why an innovation scan?

As OPSI partners with more countries and grows its knowledge and experience, we are finding that, depending on the context, a country study is not always going to be the best solution. Sometimes a country will not be ready for an in-depth study, but will instead want to get a better understanding of what the issues are first.

How might we you know if an innovation scan is appropriate? Some characteristics we believe may signal a scan is the best solution:

  1. There is a general sense that the status-quo is not good enough, but there is no clear path forward
  2. Organic networks are starting to develop and grow, but are not mature
  3. There is no formal whole-of-government innovation strategy for the public sector
  4. No clear owner of the innovation system exists; indeed there may be a very loose understanding of there being an innovation system at all
  5. Individuals and organisations are not sure how or if they fit within the innovation system
  6. Innovation is happening in the shadows and in pockets and is not considered to be required or sought in the day-to-day public sector activities

The scan performed in Israel helped to move some of these areas forward. Individuals that were part of the scan gained greater knowledge and understanding of both public sector innovation and the Israeli innovation system. The scan helped to outline parts of the existing innovation system as well as how individuals were currently operating within the system. Additionally, OPSI conducted some workshops to help build a shared vocabulary and frameworks around innovation as well as increased awareness of innovation theory, skills, and good practices.

The scan was also a way for Israel to further engagement with OPSI and our international community of innovators. By helping OPSI better understand the context and challenges within Israel, the scan helps OPSI be better able to engage and support the Israeli public sector. OPSI has already served as a connection between Israel and public sector innovators in other contexts tackling similar challenges.

In time, a more comprehensive country study may be appropriate. We have seen the impact of helping a country think more deliberately about what it needs innovation for and how it will shape its innovation system to ensure that it generates the innovative options that it needs.

The scan of Israel

Israel is long recognised as an innovative nation. Its private sector is considered one of the most innovative in the world, and the public sector has played a key role in developing and nurturing the innovation ecosystem. While innovation is still occurring in the public sector today, it often seems lacking in ambition and missing a systemic approach, instead relying on bespoke activities that rarely connect to Israel’s complex, societal challenges. As Israel looks at inequality, population growth, and other challenges, they will all have unexpected and dramatic effects on the system.

While the impacts of ever-changing realities is unknown, the public sector must start to reflect on its own preparedness and ability to respond to the challenges. The public sector needs to look at the collective innovation system to ensure that the public sector is able to properly face the unknown and unpredictable. Israel’s public sector already has some advantages in its system. Its budgeting system and its engagement with civil society organisations like JDC Israel create interesting possibilities to try new things. However, it seems that the mindsets and mechanisms for the public sector to deal with horizontal challenges are still at early stage of development and that a systemic approach to ensure that civil servants across the public sector understand what needs still to emerge.

You can read the rest of the report here.

The right engagement at the right time

For the past 5 years, OPSI has offered tailored, contextual solutions for countries. This has included workshops, studies, action-oriented work, portfolio management, and now innovation scans. While the work will continue to be diverse, we are also in the process of reflecting on our differing interactions and experiences, to help countries better understand what intervention might be best, when.

If you are wondering how OPSI can best partner with your country or jurisdiction, please reach out to [email protected].

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