Practice-based R&D for public innovation

Our ambition with States of Change is to substantially improve governments’ capabilities to deal with complex problems and come up with effective answers to today’s public service challenges. To do so, we want to work as a catalyst for transforming the cultures and systems of government and moving the boundaries of public service achievement.

We know that this is a bold vision, and to achieve it it’s essential that we proactively address the common challenges that innovation practitioners face again and again.

We also know that to do this with any success, we need to build on and be led by the wider community of practice around public innovation. The practices and insights in this field are still emerging and constantly evolving, and so the field needs to be advanced with and by leading innovation practitioners with a focus on practice rather than theory.

The States of Change learning collective

This is our aim with the Research & Development stream of work in States of Change: to mobilise practitioners to generate new knowledge and insights through collaborative R&D activities. This includes action-research coalitions and experiments in order to co-create new useful frameworks, toolkits, learning materials and bodies of knowledge.

In this sense, we want to build and amplify a global learning collective around public innovation to advance it as a field. Our overall goals are to:

  • Inspire action and enable practical peer-learning
  • Set the benchmark for the next stage of public innovation practice
  • Create co-owned principles, products and insights that strengthens the effectiveness and legitimacy of public innovation
  • Close the knowledge and practice gaps within the current community of practice

Our R&D functions & activities

We see this happening through three key functions.

The first is around mobilising and inspiring. We want to set out new horizons for public innovation and explore new ground by identifying, analysing and sharing emerging practice and impactful examples as useful and legitimate points of reference.

The second involves experimenting and reflecting - identifying challenges and opportunities, and enabling peer-learning and support. By doing so, we hope to illustrate a diverse set of promising and proven ways of how people and organisations are dealing with key challenges.

The final function of our R&D work is around sharing and consolidating. Our aim is to mobilise the community of practice to co-create new insights and tools and ensure collective ownership - including providing useful frameworks and reflections that consolidate emerging practice.

Our work so far

Over the past 18 months, we’ve already been putting this into practice in core areas of public innovation. These include:

  • Impact assessment: Together with an international group of innovation teams and labs, we’ve been developing a new impact framework for cultural change that moves from measuring outputs to assessing outcomes in the form of cultural change in government.
  • HR innovation: We’ve worked with leading innovation practitioners to define the key skills, attitudes and behaviours that public sector innovators combine in order to successfully solve public problems, and have developed an initial competency framework for experimental problem solving that sets these out.
  • Cultural change: Through our learning programmes, we’re working with progressive governments around the world to develop experimental culture in government by strengthening experimentation capacity and testing what works in practice.
  • Innovation learning approach: We’ve created the Playbook for Innovation Learning for innovation practitioners involved with the design and delivery of learning experiences or skills development programmes. It provide a foundation and structure for making innovation learning decisions.

You can read more about each of these through the links.

Our R&D principles

In order to guide our R&D approach, we see eight core development principles for this learning collective:

  1. Building on practical successes - enabling a more useful evidence-base based on a proven track-record of how people and organisations practically create successes in their innovation work.
  2. Running at the speed of the fastest - Working with the people and organisations that are at the cutting edge with the purpose of accelerating learning and build the field.
  3. Raising the bar - inspiring people and organisations to look beyond current
    innovation activities and co-develop new horizons for innovation in government.
  4. An open collaborative R&D platform - working on common ambitions and challenges by seeking ongoing input, support and validation from the wider community
  5. No ‘one answer’ - there is no ‘blueprint’, ‘one organisation’ or ‘best practice’ in this space - instead we need a dynamic learning collective illustrating the diverse sets of useful and promising practices
  6. Learning collectives, not instruction - building a new practice-focused professional movement of innovation peers based on the principle of mutuality and ongoing peer-learning.
  7. Pragmatic support – the goal of the insights and materials developed should have a practical value for the practitioners doing the innovation work.
  8. Quality and legitimacy through peer-engagement - peer-engagement and review of emerging practices to base insights and material on proven practices and experiences to keep standards high.

What’s next?

We will be furthering the R&D work focused on these overall areas under the research question:

What are the effective mechanisms for developing, embedding and sustaining experimental activities and culture for public problem solving?

We will be working with innovation practitioners around the world (in places like Colombia, Canada and the UK) to qualify, test and refine the frameworks and tools already developed, as well as to co-develop new insights and materials that connect with the overall purpose.

In addition to this, we will be seeking new opportunities to work with ambitious partners to address key challenges that they and the wider community of practice are facing. We’ll also be seeking to learn from the positive deviants of public innovation in order to elevate practical work that we all should be learning more from. This will be done through a number of different formats, ranging from open calls to more focused retreats.

If you are curious, have ideas for research questions or have concrete ideas about what to focus on, please contact Jesper Christiansen.