Public Sector Innovation Facets

The Observatory of Public Sector Innovation (OPSI) sees public sector innovation as a ‘many-splendoured’ thing. Innovation has many ‘facets’ or aspects, each of which can look quite different and can involve very different things with differing aims. OPSI has identified four facets:

  • Enhancement-oriented innovation – Enhancement-oriented innovation often starts with the question of “How might we do X better?” It is not about questioning what is being done, but rather how it is done and whether it can be done differently, and hopefully better.
  • Mission-oriented innovation – Mission-oriented innovation is about asking “How might we achieve X?”, with X ranging from the world-changing (going to the moon) to the significant but relatively contained (ensuring better services). It starts with a driving ambition to achieve an articulated goal, though the specifics of how it might be done are still unclear or are not set in stone.
  • Adaptive innovation – Adaptive innovation starts with the question “How might our evolved situation change how we do X?” Adaptive innovation is essentially about a realisation that things are happening that don’t fit with what is expected.
  • Anticipatory innovation – Anticipatory innovation starts with the question of “How might emerging possibilities fundamentally change what X could or should be?”, with X being the relevant government response or activity. Anticipatory innovation is essentially about recognising and engaging with significant uncertainty about not only what works, but also what is appropriate or possible.

When activity occurs at the intersection between the different facets of innovation, different types of change are likely to be seen.

OPSI is currently leading exploration of the facets of innovation and why they matter to those trying to make change happen in the public sector. We suggest that governments need to not only be cognisant of these different facets, but also appreciate that each facet needs to be managed and engaged with in different ways.

To assist governments to better conceptualise and manage ‘multi-faceted’ innovation, OPSI is  developing the model to prompt governments to think about why they are innovating and whether they are using the right mix of approaches to achieve their innovation aims.


What is portfolio of innovation? 

Innovation is an uncertain investment. There is no guarantee that any single innovation will work, how it will work, or what the unintended or unanticipated consequences might be. In an uncertain world, it is dangerous to rely too heavily on any one single strategy or approach, as a change in circumstances (such as a crisis or disruptive development) means that a promising or dependable approach can suddenly become unreliable or unsuited.  

A portfolio approach – multiple projects and investments – offers you the chance to spread risk, with multiple investments helping to mitigate the chance of loss, because if one investment fails others might still succeed. 

In the public sector context, investing in a number of innovations (impactful projects or initiatives that are novel to the context), and preferably involving activities that draw on the different facets of innovation, can increase the chances of getting a desired or useful result. 

Of course, there are costs in having some redundancy, but when viewed from a portfolio perspective you can view these additional costs as investments, rather than one-off bets with no guarantee of success. Some are more likely tpay off while others are merely opportunities for learning 

From a strategic perspective, a portfolio of projects is a better bet than a lone project, especially if your operating environment is uncertain and you cannot be confident about where (or when) you might need to have an innovative response.


Try our Portfolio Exploration Workshop based on the facets model

Based on our experience with the facets model, we 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 for you to download and use. Alternately, OPSI can help you run the workshop. Contact us if you are interested or have questions about running the workshop.


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