EU project identifies action areas for advancing public sector innovation

February 9, 2006

Brussels, 08 Feb 2006

'Innovation must be a human phenomenon, not an activity restricted to the private sector,' states a report on innovation in the public sector produced by Publin, a project funded under the EU's Fifth Framework Programme (FP5).

The report claims that, contrary to public perception, there are a lot of innovative activities taking place within the public sector, but that barriers do remain. The report also notes that the better public sector actors are at developing networks that give them access to competences and partners, the greater the chances are that their innovation processes will succeed.

The report lists the barriers to public innovation, and follows this with a list of important drivers and facilitators for innovation, and finally recommendations on how to improve innovation within the public sector, including a recommendation on the EU's innovation policies.

Barriers include the size and complexity of public sector organisations, which may lead to the development of internal obstacles to innovation, and a heritage and legacy that leaves public sector entities prone to entrenched practices and procedures. Risk aversion also impacts negatively upon innovation, with organisations coming under close scrutiny from both politicians and the media.

The report cites the public sector's need to carry out consultations on any planned changes as an additional obstacle to innovation, along with an absence of capacity for organisational learning, potential public resistance to change, technical barriers and an absence of resources.

Any organisation wishing to be more innovative should ensure that it has some or all of the following, according to Publin: problem-oriented drivers; non-problem-oriented drivers; political push; a culture of review; support mechanisms for innovation; capacity for innovation; competitive drivers; an interest in technological innovation; models developed by private companies and non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

Among the recommendations for boosting innovation is one addressed specifically at the EU: 'The European Union should contribute to the development of a broad based 'third generation' innovation policy that also encompasses the public sector,' says Publin. 'Such a policy should encourage policymakers to move beyond the technological perspective of innovation and promote the concept of organisational, process and conceptual innovations, to name but three.'

The report also proposes that the Commission aims at improving the coordination of innovation and knowledge policy initiatives between relevant ministries and agencies.

Other recommendations address the development of learning strategies that enable workers to find, understand and make use of competences developed elsewhere; investment in technological know-how; and performance measures.

The report also suggests that it is not just subordinates that need to be pushed if they are to be innovative, but policymakers too. 'There is a tendency among some policy makers responsible for innovation, research and knowledge policies to neglect their own learning and innovation activities; Although they do actively learn through their day-to-day activities, there is often a lack of strategies for learning and innovation in directorates, councils and ministries,' claim the Publin partners.

Further recommendations address making use of international organisations, encouraging entrepreneurs, developing clear and sensible objectives for innovation, and introducing policy measures for knowledge production, dissemination and learning.

The Publin project was funded under the 'Improving human potential' sub-section of FP5, and involved researchers at ten institutions in nine European countries. It was led by the Norwegian research institute NIFU STEP.

CORDIS RTD-NEWS/© European Communities, 2005
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