This paper looks to bring together the results of many years of research and experience on how public sectors can become more effective innovators. The world’s public sectors face acute pressures to adapt: fiscal pressures, pressures from public expectations and pressures to tackle challenges such as ageing, climate change and migration. According to conventional wisdom, they’re bound to fail, but this is at odds with the history of innovation.

In this paper, the author sets out key transformations in process and culture that can enable a brighter outlook for new ideas in the public sector.

Key findings:

  • An overall lack of seriousness about innovation across the sector is striking, and contrasts starkly with wider business;
  • The most important task for any public agency or government is to tackle each stage of the innovation process – the biggest impact comes from linking these all together into a coherent system of innovation;
  • Our research shows that there is a value to having separate specialized innovation teams – but it is also vital that these teams work alongside existing structures, otherwise new ideas are seen as being created by outsiders and are too easily rejected. Connectivity is the key;
  • A mature, systemic approach to innovation; led from the front, aware of the risks, funded intelligently and with support from all aspects of the organization;

The author:

Geoff Mulgan is Chief Executive of Nesta, and has been in post since June 2011. Between 1997 and 2004 Geoff had various roles in the UK government including director of the Government’s Strategy Unit and head of policy in the Prime Minister’s office. From 2004-2011 he was the first Chief Executive of the Young Foundation, which became a leading centre for social innovation, combining research, creation of new ventures and practical projects.