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This website was created by the OECD Observatory of Public Sector Innovation (OPSI), part of the OECD Public Governance Directorate (GOV).

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Reality Check: What’s Our Capacity to Innovate?

Apple, Microsoft and Amazon. Three of the world’s tech giants, which have a larger market cap than many developed and developing nations GDP. And while opinion varies widely on the topics such powerful companies naturally bring about, one aspect is absolutely clear: these companies have learned to nurture and embrace innovation and innovative thinking. To whole-heartedly build it into its very foundations and culture.

Yes, stability and education are important – I’m not taking anything away from that – but innovation is the real driver of progress.

Bill Gates

However, innovation is not a privilege of the public sector, of big tech companies and multinationals. Innovation is a tool, an enabler a mechanism, a way of thinking and a strategy to remain proactive, maintain high performance, push boundaries, drive impact and achieve a purpose. Currently, innovation only sporadically is, but should always be, at the heart of government.

In May 2019, we laid the foundations with the OECD Declaration on Public Sector Innovation, a legal instrument that establishes five principles and associated actions that governments or public sector organisations can use to inform and enhance innovation and its management. And as we emphasised in one of our recent blogs, innovation activities need to be linked with purpose, and purpose-driven-innovation needs to be an embedded part of the broader public administration system.

In recognition of this, 42 countries have supported the Declaration so far – paving the way for stronger, more robust governments with dedicated teams and structures in place to anticipate events, prepare for scenarios and better manage future crises and challenges for the wellbeing and prosperity of their societies.

But how do we get there? How do we turn theory into practice and ensure that we live up to the commitments made?

Today, we are excited to present the Innovation Capacity Systemic Framework, a practical and systemic framework and guidelines to make innovation an integral part of policy making and administration and enhance the capacity of governments to quickly adapt to changing environments and build more robust and sustainable solutions.

Several years of OECD-OPSI experience have flown into this Framework. It builds on existing theories and OECD models and is grounded through the lessons learned from our comprehensive public sector country studies and scans in Canada, Brazil, Israel, Denmark and Latvia. But we equally want to build on your knowledge and encourage you to provide feedback and share your experience of applying the Framework (see details below)!

The Framework enables governments and civil servants to have their very own reality check and ask themselves the question: what’s our capacity to innovate? Where are our strengths and our weaknesses? And maybe even: how do we become the ‘Apple’ of governments?

It is designed to enhance learning, to identify areas for improvement and provide access to knowledge and solutions. From the individual to the organisational and public sector system, the Framework can be applied to analyse a systems:

  • Purpose: what is driving the intent to innovate?
  • Potential: what determines whether innovation efforts are attempted?
  • Capacity: what is needed to carry out innovative efforts?
  • Impact: how is the impact of innovative efforts understood and informing future practice?

We are passionate about using systems-based approaches in our work, as this at the heart of creating holistic and sustainable change We know that civil servants operate in constrained and often imperfect public sector systems.  Innovation can be a key strategic function of government, yet it cannot exist in isolation from broader public sector governance. For innovative practice to be successful, it must be integrated across all existing levels, functions, and mechanisms of government – be it regulatory policy, budgeting, audit, digitisation or human resource management. Each structural factor frames and influences how innovation takes shape – it can act as a barrier to, an enabler of or be the very bearer of innovation itself. Governments need visibility of these structural factors to better understand and manage how innovation produces outcomes, which is where the Innovation Capacity Framework comes into play.

The Framework considers how innovation fits into and builds on the existing system, can be leveraged by actors and be used to establish new rules, practices and norms.  A systemic approach to this important as any action will effect more broadly the system, and may counteract other attempts to improve innovative capacity. It enables countries to drive an exploration and assessment of the drivers and factors that enable or hinder the capacity to innovate and provides an evidence base to take concrete actions to support their goals.

Innovation in government is nothing new. According to Joe Biden, the public sector lays claim to some of the greatest innovations ever. Think of the technology behind iPhones and Android phones, batteries that power electric cars and internet search engines. Each of these major leaps forward required governments to engage with risk, provide investment in the face of uncertainty and make deliberate commitments towards building their innovative capacity.

Of even greater importance is that innovation can yield concrete benefits for societies and governments. They can lead to better policies and governance, faster service delivery.

Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.

Steve Jobs

The Innovation Capacity Framework, however, enables these sporadic ‘bursts of innovation’ – stemming from major technological leaps forward or crises such as the pandemic – to be transferred into the very foundations of the public sector system. Once the capacity is determined, enhanced and maximized, consistent innovation can flourish and concrete benefits for societies and governments achieved. For example, embracing innovation can speed-up service delivery (as is the case with the adoption of digital technologies); it can lead to better policies and governance (such as the European Green Deal) and lead to the co-creation of ideas for the benefit of all (think of railways, highways and public infrastructure systems which are now a part of our daily lives).

We, at OPSI, are proud that in 2022 we will be testing the Framework with our country partners! And as staunch believers in the value of co-creation and ideation, we invite you to further support us by providing your own feedback via our public engagement platform by Thursday, 11 February 2022.

Let us know how the Framework was used in your country context – what worked? What could be improved? – and together we can set a new standard for tackling societies grand challenges.

Get in touch via: [email protected]

Models and approach:

The Innovative Capacity Framework builds on existing OECD models including regulatory, digital, people management, skills and budgeting but also OECD innovation-specific models including the determinants, innovation facets and anticipatory innovation governance models, along with the latest literature and research on public administration and policy, innovation management, normalisation of interventions theories, organisational theory and public sector motivation theories.  Further, we would like to acknowledge and thank our member country National Contact Points who have helped us shape, refine and test the paper and framework thus far.