Skills, attitudes and behaviours that fuel public innovation


This guide has been designed to help you get the most from Nesta’s Competency Framework for Experimenting and Public Problem Solving.

Governments around the world are exploring what it means to actually ‘do’ innovation in the public sector. We all know that getting innovation to happen, to really stick, in a web of government bureaucracy and shifting political sands takes more than a few post-its. It involves a lot of other skills and underlying attitudes.

Working with a mix of international innovation practitioners to design a competency framework, Nesta's Innovation Skills team looked at what it takes to successfully solve public problems. It includes important but often less championed values, from curiosity to empathy, or skills like creative facilitation and systems thinking, that need nurturing and adopting in the institutions that run our lives.

Why we developed it

Defining what these skills and attitudes are was a first step, but without understanding what these look like in practice we can’t identify whether they’re actually happening. Not everyone understands what being ‘tech literate’ is at first glance, or how ‘curiosity’ might manifest itself. These can feel a bit abstract to people more interesting in the doing.

So this new guide digs into each skill to explore the behaviours that result from them. The tangible actions or habits that you can see. We want you to be able to observe them, in yourself, your team or your organisation and recognise where they are and where they’re missing. Because for experimental problem solving, these are the behaviours likely to be most useful in making public innovation happen.

How to get the most from the guide

At its heart, the framework is a tool for reflection, prompting people to have conversations about the skills and attitudes that we’ve found to be fundamental to innovative teams. The framework has been used in a number of ways, and we’ve included a few activities at the end to help you make the most of it.

A word of caution, please don’t think of the guide as a comprehensive checklist. The emphasis has always been on developing strong teams rather than heroic individuals. To date, we’ve not met or heard of anyone who has all the skills and attitudes we’ve outlined, or shown all the behaviours we’ve described. Please don’t use it as a tick box exercise.

The behaviours as we see them are exactly that; as we in the Nesta Innovation Skills team see them. They might look different where you are. So use this as a starting point and take it in whatever direction you see fit, just like the Victorian Government has in Australia.

This is a live experiment

People from across this sector have contributed to this guide, improved it, adapted it and generally made it more useful. In every sense, this has been a team effort, co-created with governments, partners and colleagues from across the community of government innovation. Let’s keep this collective learning going. This is a live experiment after all, and the results are not a foregone conclusion. There’s lots still to learn from one another.

If you would like to develop this resource yourself please get in touch with us to see if we can help, otherwise, feel free to pick this up and run with it in whichever direction you see fit.