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Steps, leaps and bounds: Reflecting on the OPSI 2018 conference

The OPSI conference coheres the global innovation community

The time came again to gather innovators from all over the world to discuss all things related to our field of research and practice. Gather we did. Over 260 leaders, experts and practitioners, hailing from 28 different countries, converged in Paris on the 19 and 20 of November for the OPSI conference ‘Innovation in Government: Steps, leaps and bounds’.

As the third chapter of the OPSI conference series, this year’s theme continued the conversation we have been having within our community since the first conference, ‘From Ideas to Impact’. A couple of years ago, OPSI made the case in that conference that the ‘old ways of doing are not working’ and that government must look for new innovative ways to address the complex problems it faces. Last year, the second conference, ‘The New Normal’, argued that governments should mainstream the ‘new ways’, making innovation business-as-usual. This year, our theme was ‘Steps, leaps and bounds’. Beyond just normalising innovation within government, important as this is, we wanted to explore ‘innovation’ more deeply. We made the case that there is not just one kind of innovation, rather it is a multi-faceted phenomenon. Innovation in its various forms can be small steps toward change, or leaps and bounds toward more radical innovation. Moreover, government cannot simply take a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to innovation management. The point is, when facing all kinds of complex challenges and seeking to fulfil a multitude of goals, government must diversify what is in its ‘innovation portfolio’, to match different kinds of innovation with different needs.

Download the 2018 OPSI Conference Report.

Over the course of this conference series, our goal has always been to advance the thinking on public sector innovation. This latest chapter in the story is one where we have taken a step back, and actually tried to reckon more directly with what innovation actually is and have narrowed in on what OPSI can practically do to help innovators on the ground and governments looking to set and maintain an innovation agenda. We discussed a plethora of innovation topics and the majority of presentations are available from the conference online. If you are interested in checking out the session overviews and slide decks, please click on the individual session on the schedule of our conference website. In addition to the issues discussed, OPSI had four major announcements coming out of this event.

OPSI conference deepens understanding of innovation

OPSI sees public sector innovation as a multi-faceted phenomenon, with each facet involving different activities serving different aims. After soft launching these concepts through our blogs, we officially launched the OPSI Innovation Facets model at the conference. Essentially, discussion focused on the importance of recognising that there is no ‘one kind’ of innovation and that different kinds of innovation are suited to different kinds of needs or aims. Each facet needs to be managed and engaged with, differently. Therefore, government needs a diverse innovation portfolio. Read critical respondant Christian Bason’s thoughts on the usefulness of this model here.

Piret Tõnurist, Christian Bason and Alex Roberts launch the OPSI Innovation Facets model, Paris 2018.

The launch included a video, to aid explanation of the four main Innovation Facets of:

  • Enhancement-oriented innovation
  • Adaptive innovation
  • Mission-oriented innovation
  • Anticipatory innovation

Connecting innovators to toolkits at the OPSI conference

A multi-faceted approach to public sector innovation requires a diverse set of approaches and working methods based on circumstances and the types of people involved. Many toolkits already exist but knowing which one is best suited is not always immediately obvious. We officially launched the OPSI Toolkit Navigator at the conference and discussed how it can solve this problem.

The resource compiles and organises toolkits in a one-stop-shop, guiding users toward the most appropriate ones based on whether they want to learn something, create something, or connect with others. In doing so, it educates them on common methodologies used for public sector innovation.

The OPSI Toolkit Navigator organises toolkits in terms of jobs the users want to do.

The launch of the OPSI Toolkit Navigator also included an explanatory video that we hope would be useful to would-be users, so they can understand exactly the intention of this resource and how it can help them innovate.

Discussing innovation systems at the OPSI Conference

A public sector innovation system is effectively all of the things that contribute to (and hinder) the appetite for innovation and the ability to deliver innovative outcomes. It encompasses, the structure, the people and the processes and everything in between. OPSI has been investigating innovation systems and during the ‘Steps, leaps and bounds’ conference OPSI launched its first ever OECD Review of public sector innovation system, of the Public Service of Canada.

The Review is the first of its kind and was instrumental to the development of the Innovation Facets model. In addition to providing a deep understanding of the Canadian context, it outlines important levers available to government more generally, that will allow it to develop a more deliberate public sector innovation system.

Discussing how to make innovation systemic, not just sporadic at the OPSI Conference.

OPSI Conference launches Declare to Innovate

To make sure innovation happens consistently and continually, governments should think about how best to support different kinds of innovation suited to different kinds of challenges. They need coherent, yet diverse, innovation strategies. In light of this, OPSI has developed a Draft OECD Declaration on Public Sector Innovation, a framework and set of principles that governments can use to inform their country’s own planning and strategising to foster innovation better. Public consultation is now open. It is your chance to have your say on what goes into this document to make sure it is relevant to you. If you the OPSI Innovation Declaration could be useful to you and you support having a stronger innovation agenda in your country, join the Declare to Innovate campaign. Declare to Innovate poster, snap a picture of you holding it and tweet us @OPSIgov. The Declare to Innovate campaign will run on OPSI’s Twitter from November 2018 to February 2019.

Declare to Innovate

The OPSI ‘Innovation in Government: Steps, leaps and bounds’ was a huge undertaking. It would not have been possible without the support of the speakers and facilitators who gave their time to share their knowledge and practice on cutting-edge innovation issues, the participants who came ready to engage with and validate new thinking with us and the French government’s Direction Interministérielle de la Transformation Publique, who kindly shared their premises with us so that our conference could be held in the heart of a country’s government, during La Semaine de l’innovation publique.

Check out the pictures from the event below.