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citizen-centred innovation - anthropological methods - service design - public development - communication - idea and concept development - innovation strategy - cross-institutional collaboration

Christian Bason

Leading innovation: A journey, not a destination

By October 27th 2010

Today my new book, Leading public sector innovation: Co-creating for a better society launches.


Flipping through a copy, still almost warm from the printer’s, it strikes me that if there is one key message in it, it is that building the innovative public organisation isn’t a destination, it’s a journey. Why? Because…

It is not enough to start talking about innovation and what it means to the organisation.

It is not enough to put an innovation strategy in writing.

It is not enough to recruit a talented, diverse workforce.

It is not enough to leverage new digital media to drive collaboration, and to power new service solutions.

It (even) is not enough to build innovation labs or put into practice new design-driven methods for co-creating new solutions with citizens and business.

It is not enough to start measuring  innovation activities and results.

…and pure, raw courage to initiate new ideas and solutions in the face of stark opposition is not enough either.

The most ambitious, professional and results-oriented public managers I know are, rather, trying to leverage all of these dimensions, and more, in order to create truly innovative organisations. They recognize that reshaping public bureaucracies for the 21st century  is a long and difficult journey with no final destination in sight. As times of economic austerity clashes with demographic change and rising  service demands, it is a challenge to even keep pace with the wicked problems that are facing us every day.

For simplicity,  I therefore argue that the journey towards the highly innovative public organisation must be led simultaneously across four dimensions:  Creating consciousness of what innovation is and means to the organisation; building capacity to innovate, from political context over strategy and organisational structure to people and culture; mastering a process of co-creating new solutions with people, not for them; and finally, to display the courage at all levels of management to really lead innovation.

Although many are trying, I have yet to see a public organisation that can honestly say it is working effectively on all four dimensions.

Who will be the first?

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