Public Sector Innovation Facets

The Observatory of Public Sector Innovation (OPSI) sees public sector innovation as a ‘many-splendoured’ thing. Innovation has many ‘facets’ or aspects, each of which can look quite different and can involve very different things with differing aims. OPSI has identified four facets:

  • Enhancement-oriented innovation – Enhancement-oriented innovation often starts with the question of “How might we do X better?” It is not about questioning what is being done, but rather how it is done and whether it can be done differently, and hopefully better.
  • Mission-oriented innovation – Mission-oriented innovation is about asking “How might we achieve X?”, with X ranging from the world-changing (going to the moon) to the significant but relatively contained (ensuring better services). It starts with a driving ambition to achieve an articulated goal, though the specifics of how it might be done are still unclear or are not set in stone.
  • Adaptive innovation – Adaptive innovation starts with the question “How might our evolved situation change how we do X?” Adaptive innovation is essentially about a realisation that things are happening that don’t fit with what is expected.
  • Anticipatory innovation – Anticipatory innovation starts with the question of “How might emerging possibilities fundamentally change what X could or should be?”, with X being the relevant government response or activity. Anticipatory innovation is essentially about recognising and engaging with significant uncertainty about not only what works, but also what is appropriate or possible.

When activity occurs at the intersection between the different facets of innovation, different types of change are likely to be seen.

OPSI is currently leading exploration of the facets of innovation and why they matter to those trying to make change happen in the public sector. We suggest that governments need to not only be cognisant of these different facets, but also appreciate that each facet needs to be managed and engaged with in different ways.

To assist governments to better conceptualise and manage ‘multi-faceted’ innovation, OPSI is  developing the model to prompt governments to think about why they are innovating and whether they are using the right mix of approaches to achieve their innovation aims.


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