Achieving Innovation: Routes to Progress and Common Barriers in the Public Services

Jul 2006

Dunleavy, P., Margetts, H., Bastow S., Tinkler, J., Pearce, O., Bartholomeou, P., Bardot, L., & Lonsdale, J. (2006) Achieving innovation in central government organisations. National Audit Office Report by the Comptroller and Auditor General, HC 1447-I Session 2005-2006, 25 July.

In 2005 we carried out a Value for Money (VFM) study on behalf of the National Audit Office focusing on 'Achieving Innovation: Routes to Progress and Common Barriers in the Public Services'. Achieving Innovation aimed to provide a related authoritative account of why innovation is so difficult to achieve in the delivery of public services, and how successful innovation takes place.

We conducted a wide-ranging survey of different types of innovation in government departments and agencies. This work was supported by case study examples of innovation in the public sector, comparator cases from other areas of the public sector, and cases of successful innovation drawn from other countries including Holland, Canada, and Denmark. We focused on all types of innovation, such as:

  • developing different funding mechanisms, such as the Invest to Save and the Capital Modernisation funds, and finding means to release funding from low salience current activities to facilitate innovations;
  • planning and applying research and development in careful ways;
  • piloting projects imaginatively and speedily;
  • 'debugging' public service delivery chains by taking action to remove small blockages whose cumulative influence is deleterious;
  • realigning the incentives of units and staff so as to create greater commitment to key policy goals;
  • designing appropriate rewards and incentives, for instance, to make modest unsuccessful innovations less risky for officials to pursue;
  • building high levels of organizational and stakeholder agreement with a strategic direction;
  • encouraging stronger 'agile government' responses in time-sensitive policy areas; and
  • creating linkages from one build-and-learn innovation step to successive steps, so as to avoid the dangers of 'big bang' planning and possible large-scale failure risks.

The report was produced on behalf of the National Audit Office by a team from the LSE Public Policy Group at the London School of Economics and Political Science, led by Professor Patrick Dunleavy and Professor Helen Margetts (Oxford University), together with Simon Bastow,Jane Tinkler, Oliver Pearce and Patricia Bartholomeou. The project was overseen by Leon Bardot and Jeremy Lonsdale from the National Audit Office.

To view the contents of Achieving Innovation, please use the links below:

Full Report1.38 MB
Executive Summary78.85 KB
Detailed Research Findings1.1 MB
Focus Group Report133.98 KB
Summary of Innovations submitted for Project356.67 KB


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