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Can we measure public sector innovation? Preliminary discussion based on LIPSE project

OECD public sector innovation meeting, Feb 2014

Rainer Kattel

on 13 April 2017

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Transcript of Can we measure public sector innovation? Preliminary discussion based on LIPSE project

Can we measure public sector innovation?
Preliminary discussion based on LIPSE project

conceptualizing innovations: timeline of first two hundred years
conceptualizing innovations: first two hundred years
some preliminary conclusions
A From the oldest literature discussing public sector innovations (Tocqueville, Weber):

1) Public sector innovations are in the most abstract sense related to public authority;
2) Innovations lead to evolutionary changes in constraints and enablers that are intrinsic to public sector (rules, relationships, institutions);

private sector innovations mostly measured via impact on productivity (since Schumpeter; evidence of evolutionary change)
easy to measure on company level, also sector level
inter-sectoral comparisons however less illuminating (often misused)
country level comparisons provide hardly any meaningful insight (even more often misused)

however, there is much less clarity how various inputs (patents, skills, networks) lead to productivity increases
public sector innovation measurements projects
Measuring efforts: preliminary discussion

1.All exercises are aimed at comparing innovatiness, either across organizations, sectors, or countries. As we have seen above, performance and productivity measurement literature tends to be more and more critical whether such exercises make sense in the case of public sector.
2.All exercises seek to combine multitude of variables (from funding, to external/internal constraints to impact) and sources (from data to surveys to self-assessment tools).
3.Both these tendencies show that all the exercises are still dominated – despite many efforts to the contrary – by private sector innovations logics, especially in as far as evolutionary changes are concerned. That is, how the exercises envision innovations emerge and especially impact (organizations, businesses), is still dominantly efficiency driven.

1.Public sector innovation literature is seemingly at odds how to conceptualize innovations in the public sector. Many researchers, similarly to policy makers and opinion leaders, tend to have strongly normative approach to innovation (it is a good we should aspire towards in any case). This leads to what can be called overuse in labelling any seemingly significant change in public services delivery, organizational setup, etc, as innovation. Such indiscriminate use makes innovation as a powerful rhetorical tool in discussions but at the same time makes it virtually impossible to measure it. Above all, in such rhetorical exercises any evolutionary processes seem to get almost completely lost -- although they are assumed to exists but conceptual incoherence makes it nearly impossible to track evolutionary processes. This also means that often events are discussed as innovations that at closer look are more or less ordinary changes within an organization that just becomes better at what it does.
Rainer Kattel, Aleksandrs Cepilovs, Wolfgang Drechsler,
Tarmo Kalvet, Veiko Lember and Piret Tõnurist

ragnar nurkse school of innovation and governance
@oecd 2014
technological revolutions & paradigms
political authority & legitimacy
public sector innovations
private sector innovations
social innovations
analytics: types


(in / through)
(reactive / proactive)
(incremental / discontinuous)
B From recent public sector innovation literature I:

3) These evolutionary processes use different modalities (innovations within and through public sector), agency (public sector proactively initiates changes or reacts to technological, environmental, etc, changes), and morphology (from incremental to discontinuous changes);
4) Current literature on public sector innovations rarely deals with authority (and related phenomena such as legitimacy, trust, etc,) but rather with relatively specific features of these changes, e.g. with specific modalities (within public sector organizations), agency (reactions to external stimuli such as technology, politics, social challenges) and morphology (incremental changes); most of these changes are in fact not evolutionary or their impact remains difficult to discern;

B From recent public sector innovation literature II:

5) Innovation is too often defined from a normative viewpoint (as something leading to significant improvement in public service delivery) rather than a process that explains how profound changes take place in public sector.
6) In defining innovation, the literature has focused mostly on organizational or policy levels, but in doing so it has neglected the wider, public-sector-level, constraints and enablers. What is argued here is that there is a need for a systemic perspective that goes beyond single instruments or decisions and that would offer a framework against which the changes in core routines on organizational or policy levels can measured against.
7) Accordingly, disproportionally large areas of public sector activity in relations to innovations are under-researched and, we will argue below, this leads also to relatively simplistic attempts to measure public sector innovations.
public sector productivity
even more difficult to measure, even on an organizational level, let alone sector, country level
comparisons even more difficult to make
does not mean people don't try
2.Most public sector innovation research does not relate innovations to public sector logics such as authority, institutional interactions, legitimacy, trust (and related issues such as capacity). Thus public sector innovation conceptualizations remain stuck between implicitly copying private sector concepts while explicitly trying to move away from them. This is most clearly evident in emerging productivity discussion: copying private sector indicators that have also a limited if politically highly visible use in private sector discussions.
3.Measuring performance in the public sector in general is complex and complicated matter where recent research has brought out more problems than solutions. However, there is a clear tendency to use more performance measurements (such as in budgeting) than less; same processes lead to increasing pressures to measure productivity and efficiency (via such things as efficiency frontiers as benchmarks) in order to enforce innovative practices in public organizations. Critical assessments, however, tell us that both performance and productivity measurements tools should be used with cautions and in particularly comparison should be used with extreme caution.
4.All three tendencies come crashing together in measuring public sector innovations. First, all problems prevalent in performance and productivity measurements are compounded by conceptual confusion described above and most of all, the lack of evolutionary dynamics in most public sector innovation conceptualizations means that what is measured based on these concepts is almost by definition relatively worthless to the organizations, policies makers and to citizens. Most projects that are currently under way as described above, indicate that difficulties increase almost exponentially when we move from organizations (such as agencies, departments, hospitals) to larger units (sectors, countries).
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