City management and competitiveness |

City management and competitiveness

How can governments be innovative? If the public service is to improve, how can the efficacy of new initiatives be measured, assessed, and then replicated? Innovation in the public sector has been the focus of much spirited discussion lately, amid an increased global desire for governments to be more transparent about their civil and legislative work, coupled with a rising interest in big data and the quantified self-movement.

The ins and outs of conceptualising and evaluating innovation in government were analysed by Professor Greta Nasi, a leading researcher in the area of government innovation, at a talk held on 21 January 2016, at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy (LKYSPP) and chaired by Associate Professor Zeger Van Der Wal, LKYSPP Assistant Dean of Research.

Failure to change

Prof Nasi began her talk with the bold claim that “70 per cent of innovation fails.” Furthermore, any kind of transformation or change in processes takes time, resources and money – a fact that is true of both the public and private sectors, said Prof Nasi.

However, when it comes to forging innovation in government, public funds are at stake. Thus, any failed attempt at innovation can lead to an erosion of trust in the government institutions spearheading the initiative, as well as their legitimacy being undermined. As such, there is a pressing need to empirically measure and evaluate the effectiveness of innovation within a government context, explained Prof Nasi.

Time and space

Having undertaken an extensive literature review of journal articles about the success of innovation in government, Prof Nasi found that there can be divergent ideas about this topic across various geographical and cultural contexts. A majority of studies focused on technology as the driver of innovation, and many offered an empirical study as opposed to a theoretical discussion of innovation.

Sometimes, as she discovered, the benefits of innovation were offset by unforeseen costs. One study of a newly-installed online system at a government agency in Italy showed that it brought about quicker and easier processing of forms and applications, as well as greater satisfaction for the public, but agency employees were deeply frustrated at having to master and constantly troubleshoot the system.

This, Prof Nasi said, was a function of time: if the results were measured in the short-run, the full benefits and/or costs of a novel implementation might not be fully realised. However, if long-term outcomes were measured, employee frustration might diminish with increased mastery of the system. However, Prof Nasi also cautioned that if the timeframe for measuring innovation performance is too long, there is a risk that the stakeholders might forget about or lose interest in the project.

Conceptualising innovation

To keep the spirit of innovation alive, Prof Nasi advocated for continued discussion – between academics, governments, civil servants and stakeholders – about the nature of innovation within a public policy context. Conversations should take place about the goals and boundaries of innovation, how its results should be measured over time, and how to replicate and scale the fruits of innovation in the long run. “If we don’t know what to measure or how to measure it, then we have essentially worked for nothing,” she said. “Innovation in government is vital in times of crisis and low resources, and its ultimate goal should be achieving better quality of life for all stakeholders.”


Professor Greta Nasi is Director of the Public Management and Policy Department at SDA Bocconi School of Management in Milan, Italy. She obtained a Doctoral Degree in Public Management from University of Parma in 2004, as well as a Master of Public Administration from Maxwell School, Syracuse University in 2003, where she was a Fulbright Scholar. She has also been a Visiting Scholar at the Economics Department, City College of New York (CUNY), the Center for Public Services Organizations, School of Management, University of London at Royal Holloway, Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California at Berkeley, and Wagner School of Public Service, New York University. Her research interests include change management in the public sector, collaborative public management, e-government, ICT, and innovation management in the health care and public sectors.

Written by the External Affairs department

Date:
Thursday, 21 January 2016

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