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The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.
By The Intersector Project
The United States faces a host of complex problems on which government leaders and public agencies at all levels strive to make marked progress, from poverty to climate change to public health. As citizens are becoming increasingly accustomed to experiencing inventive solutions in other parts of their lives, there are greater public expectations of government to create innovative, effective solutions to solve these problems. But there are several roadblocks to public innovation, including bureaucratic processes and rules and a tendency to rely on in-house approaches to addressing public challenges.
Some individuals who work in government are able to overcome these challenges and achieve public innovation, leading their colleagues to see old problems in new ways, developing untried, creative ideas, and discovering what works through experimentation and no-blame feedback loops. Authors Barbara Crosby, Associate Professor at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota, Paul ‘t Hart, Professor of Public Administration at Utrecht University School of Governance and Jacob Torfing, Professor in Politics and Institutions at the Roskilde School of Governance, discuss this phenomenon in their recent Public Management Review article, “Public Value Creation Through Collaborative Innovation.”
But “banking on ‘lone ranger’ innovation heroes from within public services organizations is risky,” they warn, since these individuals often lack a comprehensive understanding of the problem they’re aiming to address or, if elected or serving an elected official, may not be in their role long enough to see the solutions through. The authors suggest that innovation can be more consistently achieved “through dispersed efforts and distributed leadership,” looking to “the role of networks and partnerships as venues where public innovation emerges.”
In this type of collaborative model, public managers may not be fully leading innovation but they still play a key role in making it happen through convening partners and garnering support for the co-created innovative solutions in the institutionalized arenas where actual policy change can occur, the authors note. The authors studied several successful examples of public manager-driven innovation, such as Heading Home Hennepin, the collaboratively created city-county initiative to end homelessness in Minneapolis and Hennepin County, and highlight the importance of “distributive, integrative, and catalysing” public leadership for collaborative innovation. The takeaways below, which relate to the authors’ findings on levers for propelling talk-centric collaboration into action, will be of interest to public managers and other leaders interested in convening, managing, and catalyzing cross-sector creation of solutions to public challenges.
Takeaways for Practitioners
The Intersector Project is a non-profit organization that empowers practitioners in the business, government, and non-profit sectors to collaborate to solve problems that cannot be solved by one sector alone. We create accessible, credible, and practically valuable resources that are publicly available in full through our website. Visit us at Intersector.com.