Public sector innovation system scan of Latvia

Written by and on 8 March 2021

Today we’re releasing an innovation scan of the Latvian national public sector, undertaken in conjunction with the Latvian State Chancellery and with the support of the European Union’s Directorate General for Structural Reform Support. We are releasing both a report and a highlights document.

We’re very excited to share this work, both because it is about recognising and celebrating the efforts that have already occurred in Latvia, and because it is a demonstration of the commitment of the Latvian public service to continue to develop their public sector innovation system. It is also an additional piece in our growing collection of studies and scans helping countries work towards a more consistent, deliberate and systemic approach to public sector innovation.

OPSI country scans and studies

This is the second country scan we have done (after one on Israel’s public sector innovation system), plus the two deeper studies conducted with Canada and Brazil. These scans and studies help us at OPSI and the OECD learn more about national public sector innovation systems. They represent  important opportunities to work with countries to explore how to take a more deliberate, strategic and systemic approach to innovation. Each new project with a partner country solidifies our understanding of the various ingredients that can contribute to achieving desired outcomes, and how innovation can be supported within the public sector. As the coronavirus crisis has shown us, public sector innovation is not an optional extra, but central to the effectiveness of government. It is therefore vital that we understand how to support countries on their respective innovation journeys.

Yet innovation is not straightforward. Our essential aim with this work is thus to help make the implicit explicit, to reveal, codify and make tangible the wide array of forces and factors that influence:

  • whether and to what extent innovation takes place (e.g. does innovation happen only in response to crises, or is it guided by a clear sense of national priorities and needs?)
  • the form that resultant innovation activity takes (e.g. is the innovation activity more radical or more incremental, is it about adapting to changes in operating environment or working towards big audacious goals?)
  • the extent to which experimentation and learning from different contexts is balanced with maintaining shared standards, systems and processes where needed (i.e. if different public sector agencies innovate in different ways, are there also processes to ensure some degree of convergence and inter-operability?).

Only once we know what is shaping when, how and where innovation activity is likely to occur can we hope to influence the extent and nature of the innovation that results.

In this way, we can get a sense of the ‘innovation journey’ of the public sector – where has it been, where is it now, and how it might evolve and change in the future. We uncover current practices, appreciate the context and the dynamics of the system, and then reflect this view back to those within the system. Combined with  the experiences and lessons of other countries in their respective innovation journeys, we hope to help governments consider what it is they need from their innovation systems and what might help them get it.

Public sector innovation and Latvia

The public service of Latvia has already taken some important steps to building a more sophisticated approach to public sector innovation, including:

  • Training of the leadership cadre of the public service on key innovation concepts and thinking
  • Endorsement of the OECD Declaration on Public Sector Innovation and a tailoring of its implications to the Latvian context through an Innovation Manifesto
  • Establishing training as part of the Latvian School of Public Administration around design thinking and experimentation
  • The establishment of the Innovation Lab to support crucial design-led projects, to help introduce the application of new methods, to build capability, and to provide a nexus point within the broader system and ecosystem
  • The establishment of the informal innovation enthusiasts network
  • Ongoing efforts by leadership to encourage and support innovation as a part of the identity and culture of the Public Service of Latvia
  • A strong foundation in digital infrastructure, including digital identity, which has led to a variety of projects to streamline service to citizens and businesses.

Yet while such steps have been taken, the innovation system is still at an early stage and experiencing fragmentation. Many different actors and organisations currently influence innovation activity, but without a full sense of the interrelated roles and impacts. There are partial, but incomplete, drivers to help establish innovation as a core practice and to balance out the equally necessary drivers within the public service that emphasise stability and predictability. Lastly, there is not yet as explicit a sense of common goals in today’s tumultuous world and innovation’s role in achieving them. In short: there are opportunities to continue to develop a more sophisticated and tailored approach suitable to the Latvian context.

In doing work such as this, we must always appreciate that just as innovation is fundamentally about learning and discovery, so too are the efforts to support a more strategic, deliberate and systemic approach to innovation. There is always further to go, for with the more that is learnt, the more that is known about what is possible. Yet it is not easy to balance the new and the old, the established with the emergent. There is no silver bullet, no single recipe for how countries can succeed. It takes repeated, consistent efforts, as well as a willingness to experiment, to pivot when needed, to have an ongoing conversation about balancing the ‘what is’ with the ‘what could or should be’.

The scan (also available as a brief highlights document) provides some provocations, some frameworks and some possible courses of action for the Latvian public service to help prompt, but also guide, them in their ongoing journey. We look forward to seeing how this scan is used within Latvia as the public sector takes its next steps in embedding innovation as a core capability.

  1. I looked at the highlights document, expecting to find at least one or two innovations or examples of potential innovations. It was all general speak about the drivers/directions, etc. of innovation – all very abstract. I teach public policy and would like the OPSI to be much more concrete – use examples to analyze principles, rather than speaking only in principles. I find that I seldom find much value-added here, lamentably.

    • Hi Gregory – we have a database of several hundred examples and our trends reports look at examples in significant detail, as do things like our trends reports, so maybe they might provide what you’re looking for. From our years of work in this field we know however that individual cases can only tell us so much about the nature of the system and how to ensure that there is a consistent, reliable, deliberate and systemic approach to innovation which is what countries need in today’s tumultuous world. An over emphasis or bias towards individual cases alone can lead to a symptomatic approach rather than making any real substantive differences. Our country scans are lighter-touch exercises – as you’d see in the full country study of Brazil that we released a couple of years ago there are a number of more in-depth case studies which can help to exemplify or illustrate.

  2. The steps that the Latvian government has really taken to develop and promote innovation, shows that with a few actions significant progress can be achieved in achieving new processes that simplify state procedures, that is why the permanent training of leaders in fields of concept and thoughts, gives efficient results in innovative methodologies. In this article that highlights some of the steps to achieve that sophisticated approach to innovation, we see how the network of innovation enthusiasts has been growing and giving very positive results.

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