Innovation Workshop


What is it?

What is the purpose of innovation, anyway?

How much of what types of innovation should governments support?

Are current activities sufficient or adequately supported?

How do governments re-balance an innovation portfolio?

Through its work with countries all over the world, ranging from topic-specific workshops to large-scale review of the public innovation systems for entire countries (e.g., Canada and Brazil), OPSI has identified four facets to public sector innovation. Watch the video  visit the facets webpage or learn more on our blog series.

Based on our experience, we designed and now offer governments a workshop for exploring and assessing the balance of innovation activities undertaken by civil servants, leaders, and decision-makers. The workshop is flexible enough to accommodate up to 100 people but can also be done as an individual reflection activity. Workshop modules for both half-day and full-day agendas are available to download and use.


Why we developed this workshop

A shared understanding of innovation and a common vocabulary matters, especially as governments focus more on taking systems-wide approaches to transformation across and within their countries and even across national borders. Without some degree of consensus about what it is and for what purpose it is deployed, there is going to be a misalignment of belief, intent, and action, which will make the difficult task of introducing and applying novel approaches even more challenging.

Innovation can be measured and incremental, and it may be rapid and radical. It may be rigorously designed, and it can be an educated guess or a loose experiment. Thus, it is not easy to rally consensus around one purpose or perspective of innovation. Rather, we believe that governments should come to consensus around the fact that innovation is multi-faceted, and that successfully leveraging innovation requires a portfolio approach to allow them to understand, foster, and manage its different facets. In a complex and often turbulent political and economic context, pursuing or relying on any one single approach, whether innovative or not, is highly risky. Applying the appropriate approaches, strategies, and methods for innovation depends on:

  • A shared understanding of what type of innovation is being pursued and for what public purpose
  • A recognition of how each strategy, project, or policy fits into an overall innovation portfolio
  • A recognition of how a set of strategies, projects, or policies need to be supported by government
  • An actionable roadmap for amplifying or transitioning the portfolio in order to match a changing operating environment

This workshop helps governments uncover and explore these dimensions to take action in shaping their innovation capabilities.


A brief introduction to the Innovation Facets Model

This faceted innovation model provides a starting point for governments to build a shared language and understanding of the role and purpose of innovation for their work and in their mandates. With this workshop, OPSI and governments put theory into practice in order to make sense of and orient portfolios of innovation activity. For more in-depth information about the model, read our blog series or watch a short video.

The facets of innovation

  1. Mission-oriented innovation: involves a clear outcome or overarching objective for which innovation is oriented. There is a clear direction, even if the specifics of how it will be achieved may be uncertain.
  2. Enhancement-oriented innovation: focuses on upgrading practices, achieving efficiencies and better results, and building on existing structures, rather than challenging the status quo. Enhancement-oriented innovation generally exploits existing knowledge and previous innovations. Such innovation can achieve greater efficiency, effectiveness and impact from existing processes and programmes.
  3. Adaptive innovation: involves playing with, testing and trying new approaches in order to respond to a changing operating environment. For this facet, the purpose to innovate may be the discovery process itself, driven by new knowledge or the changing environment, such as the introduction of innovation by others (e.g. a new technology, business model, or new practices).
  4. Anticipatory innovation: involves exploring and engaging with emergent issues that might shape future priorities and future commitments. This facet has the potential to subvert existing paradigms. Very new ideas generally do not cohabit well with existing reporting structures, processes, and workflows, as how the idea will work in practice still needs to be teased out.


Workshop overview

What are the outcomes?

  • Build a shared understanding of innovation in government organisations
  • Build capacity of government staff to find recognise and differentiate different types of innovation
  • Analyse a current portfolio of innovation activities
  • Uncover how different innovation activities are supported (or not)
  • Explore different possible approaches to current innovation activities
  • Evaluate innovation portfolio balance
  • Develop an action roadmap to maintain, reorient, or create new activities or investments

Who is it for?

The workshop was designed with government administrations and top-level civil servants and innovation labs in mind, working either in a central strategic capacity or in an individual ministry, department, or unit with shared objectives.  The workshop is intended for a few dozen participants who work together on a regular basis on shared projects or initiatives and/or have a basic understanding of each other’s work. We are currently testing this workshop with multiple levels of government, including national and sub-national. If you would like to test this workshop with us, contact us.

3 Modules

If you wish to include all three modules, a full day (estimate of 6 hours of workshop time, excluding breaks) is required. Modules build upon each other, so Module 1 is a prerequisite for Module 2 and so on. See below a description of each Module.

This module involves building an individual and shared understanding of public sector innovation by using the Innovation Facets model as a framing tool. Participants will make sense of the different types of innovation activities in governments as well as what types of systems, capabilities, organisational structures and cultures tend to support each facet.
In this module, participants will assess a hypothetical mix of innovation projects and activities to build an understanding of how innovation can be viewed and supported in different ways. Then, participants will design a hypothetical innovation portfolio, using the Innovation Facets model to contextualise the activities as well as re-frame and guide discussions. Alternately, participants may use their own existing projects if available.
In this module, participants will evaluate their innovation portfolios using a set of prompts to guide the exploration and testing of their activities and the organisational preconditions, capacities, dependencies and structures that support them. Then, participants will develop a roadmap of actions based on the need to amplify, transition, re-balance, or diversify their innovation activities and investments. This Module works best if participants used their own projects and activities in Module 2.


  • The workshop is best suited for those who have a basic shared understanding of the innovation project and activities across an organisation.
  • As this workshop is about encouraging new thinking, challenging the status quo, and uncovering expanded possibilities, it is necessary for any facilitators to have impartial interests in the content of any projects discussed.
  • In addition, the workshop should contain a diversity of participants from across the organisation.
  • Finally, if including Module 3, workshop participants will be asked to provide titles and very short descriptions of the projects and activities they would like to explore.



Project Cards

Example: Hypothetical project card deck from Module 3

These materials that can be downloaded and used for running the workshop or completing the activities individually. The materials are organised by Module



Frequently asked questions

You should plan 6 hours of workshop time to complete all three modules. With breaks and lunch, ask participants to plan on a full 8-hour day.

The materials should be printed with a large format printer so that all participants can stand or sit around them and interact with them at the same time. Ideally, the cards should be printed on heavy cardstock and cut to size. However, they can also be printed on regular A4 sized paper and cut manually.

If you feel comfortable facilitating with your team, if you feel comfortable explaining the Innovation Facets Model, and if you feel impartially toward the projects and activities the participants will discuss, please feel free to facilitate this workshop on your own. If those conditions are not true for you, consider asking a professional facilitator or colleague to step into this role. OPSI staff are also available to facilitate this workshop, as well as tailor it to your team’s individual needs. Contact us below if you would like help with this.

Yes, these materials are licensed for reuse and adaptation as long as you credit the Observatory of Public Sector Innovation. In fact, we encourage you to adapt these to best suit the needs of your participants and your context. If you would like editable files, please contact us.

This workshop was developed by

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