Sunday, 10 March 2013

UNDERSTANDING INNOVATION AND BEST PRACTICES*)

Imraan Patel


 

Introduction


This chapter aims to improve the understanding of how to enhance public sector innovation. It begins by introducing two conceptual models for innovative processes within the public sector. The chapter then reviews concepts of best practices, innovation, and improvement; determines whether these are helpful; and analyses selected issues associated with the transfer of innovations. It highlights why it is important to focus on the organizational context rather than on single innovations. The conclusion offers suggestions for the methodology on transferring innovation, improvements, and best practices in governance and public administration.

 

Characteristics of Innovation and Best Practices


Many of the world’s nation states are involved in major efforts aimed at reforming and improving their governments (Kamarck, 2003). As a consequence, “innovation is used ever more frequently in the rhetoric and discourses of public service improvement” as a result of the “positive resonances” associated with this concept (Albury, 2005). However, it is important to recognize that innovation is not an end in itself but a means to an end. Innovation must be judged by its ability to create what Moore (1995) describes as “public value.”

 

In this context, Moore (2005) introduces two very different models to understand innovative processes in the public sector. The first model is based on specific breakthrough innovations while the second model focuses on innovative organizations and continuous improvement. Further, he poses the question of whether the study of innovation in government is about: a) the processes that generated a breakthrough innovation and ways to spread that idea throughout the world or b) the creation of innovative organizations that continuously innovate and learn whereby small changes result in significant changes over time.
 
Despite the overlap between innovative ideas and their dissemination on the one hand and the creation of innovative organizations on the other, Moore argues that these two models focus on slightly different things. With breakthrough innovation, the key question is what constitutes a significant innovation and what processes enable it to spread. In the case of innovative organizations, the questions are slightly different and center on issues such as organizational structures, financing, cultures, etc. (Moore, 2005).
 
Notwithstanding these two approaches to innovation, attempts to facilitate its transfer should include strategies that deal with the innovation itself as well as crucial organizational issues. To explore this question in more detail, it is useful to briefly unpack the concepts of innovation, improvement and best practices.

 

Improvement versus innovation


To achieve widespread improvements in governance and service performance, including efficiencies, in order to increase public value (Hartley, 2005), we should not only satisfy academic rigor but also make sure that the terminology used contributes in a practical way to improving democratic governance.
 
The word innovation is generally regarded as something positive and conveys images of renewal, commitment, improvement and progress. The academic literature, quite rightly so, has argued for the need to define innovation in a way that helps analysis and policy. Specifically, it is argued that innovation must be separated from general improvement. For example, Hartley writes that innovation and improvement need to be seen as conceptually distinct and not blurred into one concept (2005).
Combining improvement and innovation in a two-by-two matrix, Hartley illustrates that it is possible to have innovation without improvement as well as improvement without innovation. Within this framework, four scenarios are possible as shown below.
 

Figure 1

INNOVATION AND IMPROVEMENT

 

 

 
 
High Improvement
 
 
 
 
QUADRANT 2
 
QUADRANT 4
 
No Innovation
 
 
Innovation
 
 
 
 
QUADRANT 1
 
QUADRANT 3
 
 
 
Low Improvement
 
 

                                                                                                                                                      Source: Hartley, 2005                             

 

Quadrant 1   occurs in highly stable environments where innovation is not needed because there is a close fit between that environment and its organizational processes, systems and stakeholder needs. Alternatively, the organization may be experiencing inertia and not identifying a need to either innovate or improve to meet new needs and changing circumstances.

Quadrant 2   represents organizations which focus on small incremental changes in order to improve. It must be noted that small changes can collectively lead to substantial changes over time.

Quadrant 3   occurs when there is innovation that does not lead to improvement and may even lead to deteriorating performance. Situations associated with this pattern include: innovations that do not succeed, and innovations that lead to more choice but no real improvement for users.

Quadrant 4 represents a desirable situation whereby an organization innovates, resulting in noticeable improvements in outputs and outcomes (Hartley, 2005).

 

Conceptual clarity is important when undertaking academic studies on innovation. Yet, if innovation essentially involves the application of new ideas (White, 2003), then differences between innovation and improvement are less important since the methodologies developed to enable the transfer of innovation can also apply to a general improvement. Because of its positive connotations, innovation as a concept can be used to encourage and facilitate improvement and change. Definitions of innovation differ according to the perspective and approach of those who use it (White, 2003). For example, for an international awards programme like the United Nations Public Service Awards, a stricter definition is more appropriate as it helps isolate groundbreaking innovations. A public manager who aims to create a learning organization and who places a high premium on ongoing problem-solving will instead choose a definition that facilitates continuous improvement through incremental innovation – with a groundbreaking initiative seen as an added bonus.
 
Therefore, definitions differ depending on the purpose for which they are being used. In addition, definitions may change when dealing with the same activity but in two different settings. For example, a country with well-established innovation award programmes, such as the Innovations in American Government Program in the United States, would opt for a stricter definition of innovation as opposed to a country in transition where innovation award programmes are just being implemented. A country implementing an award programme for the first time might have more success by adopting
a less strict definition. As the award programme develops and grows, the definition can always become clearer and stricter. Adopting various definitions of innovation has another advantage. As highlighted earlier, innovation has tremendous emotional value and depends on perception. A shifting definition together with suitable incentives can therefore help to create an environment where officials strive to raise the bar of what is possible. The present discussion has important implications for programmes and activities aimed at creating public value through “innovation.” A variable definition highlights the need to focus on the conditions that facilitate learning from the experiences of others. As such, the details and practice of knowledge-sharing and replication become crucial.
 

Best practices - do they make sense in the public sector?

A second issue of terminology relates to the concept of best practices. This chapter supports the view of the Fourth Meeting of the Committee of Experts on Public Administration (CEPA) of the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) held in April 2005. Several members of CEPA argued that the concept of best practices is problematic in relation to public administration and governance. The best practices concept was popular in the 1980s, particularly in the private sector, where consulting houses favoured the approach that there were best ways of doing things. This standard one-sizefits-all approach was popular for a while, but soon lost favour as private sector companies realized that best practices in fact reduced a firm’s competitive advantage and its capacity for innovation. In addition, some practices were difficult to implement because they were not easily transported to environments with different cultures, values, leadership and legal environments.
 
The concept of best practices has lost favour particularly among developing countries that were advised to adopt standard economic prescriptions by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). It is important to underline that most innovations in governance and service delivery are implemented within complex social and economic systems. Thereby, the approach of “differential diagnosis” used by Jeffery Sachs (2004) in relation to economic development solutions can also be applied to service delivery improvements and innovations. A systematic approach and a good diagnosis are critical in identifying problems that require the development of a solution (Sachs, 2005). Using differential diagnosis means that it is more suitable to talk about good practices (if these have an element of superiority) or, as argued during the Experts Committee, to talk about successful policy options. Moving away from the concept of best practices has the additional advantage of avoiding fashionable trends and embracing instead an approach that values problem definition as the starting point for action whereby good practices, innovations and improvements are part of a menu of options for addressing that particular problem or challenge.
 

What drives innovation?


To better understand the opportunities and limitations of “replication,” it is useful to know why innovations happen. Borins (2000) tried to provide an empirical explanation for this question by reviewing the winners of the Innovations in American Government Program and identifying the key conditions leading to innovation. Through a survey, innovators were asked to identify the conditions and challenges associated with a particular innovation. The conditions identified by innovators fell into five groups:

 

n  Initiatives resulting from the political process and system, including an election mandate or pressure by politicians;

n  A leadership change, including appointments from outside of the organization as well as new internal choices;

n  A crisis, either current or anticipated, particularly with the potential for negative publicity;

n  A variety of internal problems, including failure to respond to a changing environment, inability to reach a target population, inability to meet the demands of a programme, resource constraints, or an inability to coordinate policies; and

n  New opportunities created by technology or other factors (Borins, 2000).

 

A less formal but similar analysis conducted by the Centre for Public Service Innovation (CPSI) on innovations in South Africa reveals a similar set of conditions, with one important addition. Following democratization in 1994 and the integration of South Africa into the global economy, a significant number of innovations occurred as a result of adopting and adapting successful models from other countries. These innovations were new but not necessarily original, discovered rather than invented (Hannah, 1995). In many cases, the transfer of models occurred in tandem with changes in leadership and shifting political conditions. On reflection, several of the innovations imported to South Africa either attempted to address an internal failing or resulted from a new opportunity created by new technology or processes.
 

Type of innovation


Governments can and do innovate in a variety of different ways. Developing a suitable typology of innovations is central to efforts to transfer them. For example, it is easier to transfer a new design of a sanitation system (like ventilated pit latrines) than to transfer one-stop government centers, because the latter has significant legal, institutional and technological prerequisites. Geography and spatial issues will also affect the innovation. Various writers have attempted to advance different types. The CPSI developed four types of innovations: innovations in service delivery, innovations in citizen engagement and democracy, innovations in government processes (planning frameworks, budgeting, etc.) and innovative arrangements to reach a certain goal (for example, unique public private partnerships or public-community partnerships). Drawing on several of these writers, Hartley identifies seven types of innovation. In practice, it is important to bear in mind that a particular change may result from the application of more than one type of innovation. The major types of innovation identified by Hartley are:
 

n  Product: New products; for example, using television to deliver training content to teachers and nurses;

n  Service: New ways to provide services to users; for example, the introduction of on-line forms;

n  Process: New ways of designing organizational processes; for example, reengineering business processes;

n  Position: New contexts or users; for example, addressing the tax needs of informal enterprises;

n  Strategic: New goals or purposes of the organization; for example, community policing;

n  Governance: New forms of citizen engagement and democratic institutions;

n  Rhetorical: New language and new concepts; for example, congestion charging in major cities (Hartley, 2005).

 

From the above typology, it is easily inferred that the type of innovation will affect the process of transfer, including how the innovation is documented and the methodology for sharing the innovation.

 

Focus on the broader trend

There is a fair degree of consensus that wholesale adoption of particular innovations or improvements is rarely possible. Experience has shown that the adoption of a particular innovation is part of a broader trend and trajectory and that an innovation tends to be affected by “previous patterns” (Farah, 2005). These trends and trajectories can be universal or may be specific to certain regions or countries that share common political, social and economic features. As a consequence, when evaluating an innovation, a detailed analysis of the trend or trajectory within which the innovation occurs is crucial. Once the trend has been identified, it becomes easier to determine whether, if transferred, the innovation will be successful and whether there is a need to consider additional innovations or changes.
 

Patterns of Innovation


As highlighted earlier in this chapter, innovation transfers are more effective when there are measures in place to increase the overall innovation capital of public sector institutions and systems. To illustrate this point, four issues are reviewed in the following sections, including patterns of innovation, problem types, as well as barriers to and opportunities for innovation. Glor (2001b) identified patterns of innovation based on three dynamics:

 

n  Individual motivation: This can be either extrinsic or intrinsic. Intrinsic motivation arises from within the individual, for example, a commitment to a programme because of a personal identification with it. Extrinsic motivation arises from outside of the individual, for example, managerial control or some form of outside reward or incentive. Intrinsic motivation enables greater levels of problem-seeking and problem-solving as compared to extrinsic motivation;

n  Organizational culture: This can be either a bottom-up culture or a top-down culture;

n  Challenge: This can be either minor (for example, posing a low risk to individuals or organizations) or major (high risk to individuals and organizations).

 

Taking the two extreme points for each dynamic, that is, the top-down and bottom-up perspectives, and combining these, yields eight “innovation patterns.” The patterns are as much about innovations as they are about organizations (Glor, 2001b). The patterns that emerge as a result of combining these three dynamics are summarized in Table 1.

 

Table 1

PATTERNS OF INNOVATION

 

Pattern
Motivation
Culture
Challenge
Reactive
Extrinsic
Top-down
Minor
Buy-in
Intrinsic
Top-down
Minor
Necessary
Extrinsic
Bottom-up
Major
Imposed
Extrinsic
Top-down
Major
Active
Extrinsic
Bottom-up
Minor
Pro-active
Intrinsic
Bottom-up
Minor
Transformational
Intrinsic
Top-down
Major
Continuous
Intrinsic
Bottom-up
Major

 

                                                                      Source: Glor, 2001b

 

While reactive and buy-in innovation produces fewer ideas and less variability between the ideas, innovations are easily approved, implemented and integrated. Active and proactive innovation, on the other hand, produces more ideas although of less variability. These innovations are accepted at the local level, but enjoy little support at the central level. Necessary and imposed innovations receive mixed support. They receive easy approval but encounter difficulties in implementation. While the center supports the innovation, the innovator does not enjoy support at the local level. Only transformational and continuous innovation engages the individual and creates major challenges to the status quo. Transformational innovation produces many ideas with high variation from the status quo but less variation between the ideas. Culture provides some support to the innovator, who accepts change and readily implements it. Long-term integration is, however, more difficult. Only continuous innovation engages the individual, the collectivity, and management. It creates an environment where many new ideas are introduced and the innovations are generally well-received, easily implemented and integrated because they arise from within the culture.
 

Innovation patterns help practitioners identify the issues they should pay attention to during the implementation process. A systematic analysis of the patterns can help identify stable and unstable innovations and can therefore predict the long-term chances of success. Each pattern is characterized by a different mix with regard to the “creativity of the innovation.” In this instance, creativity is a measure of the number of ideas generated by each pattern as well as the variability of ideas (Glor, 2001b). These enable an understanding of key implementation issues associated with each pattern. Table II.2 combines these two issues. Key factors associated with the implementation environment include ease of approval, ease of implementation, support provided to the innovators and central support provided to the innovation. Glor (2001b) concludes that there is a dilemma inherent in innovations based on the following observations.

 

Table 2

IMPLEMENTATION CONSEQUENCES OF INNOVATION PATTERNS

 

Creativity of the Innovation
Implementation Environment
Pattern
Number of Ideas
Variability of Ideas
Ease of Approval
Ease of Implementation
Support to Innovator
Central Support to Innovation
Reactive
Low
Low
High
High
Low
Low
Buy-in
Low
Low
High
High
Low
Low
Necessary
High
Medium
High
Low
Low
High
Imposed
Low
Medium to Low
Low
Low
Low
Low
Active
Low-Medium
Low
High
Low
Low
High
Pro-active
Medium-High
Low
Low
Low organizationally,
High locally
Low
Low
Transformational
High
High (from status quo);
Low (between each other)
Medium-
High
High
Medium
High
Continuous
High
All Kinds
High
High
High
High

Source: Glor, 2001b

 

The first six patterns (i.e., all except transformational and continuous) resulted in low creativity and minor impacts. For the remaining two, where high creativity and major impact occur, this happens in one of three ways: through the use of power from the center, through ongoing cumulative changes that produce a continuous impact, and through discontinuous large leaps (Glor, 2001b). Glor’s analysis, presented in abridged form in this chapter, highlights the need for a greater sense of innovation self-awareness by organizations wishing to transfer and customize innovations. Organizations that find this analysis useful are encouraged to review this study in full.
 

Problem types


According to Yapp (2005), the desire to find a new way to deal with a problem is a source of innovation. Thus, it is important to understand the nature of the problem that a group or team of organizations is dealing with. On this basis, he proposes a two-by two matrix to facilitate the process of thinking about problems. The same two dimensions are used on both axes: whether an organization knows where it is going and whether the organization knows how to get there (see Figure 2). The implications ofthe Problem Types model are summarized below.
 

 

Figure 2

PROBLEM TYPES

 

 
 
Knows where
organization is going
 
 
 
 
Process Development
 
Operational Management
 
Does not
know how to
get there
 
 
Knows how
to get there
 
 
 
Concept creation
 
Direction-setting
 
 
 
 
Does not know where
organization is going
 
 

      Source: Yapp, 2005

 
Operational management applies to an organization that knows where it is going and how to get there. In this case, a budget and resources are available and the innovator or team needs to get on with the task and be accountable for outputs. Too often, organizationsmistakenly believe that they are in this quadrant and try to apply basic operational management without much success.
 
Concept creation is the task in cases where the organization does not know where it is going or how to get there. The focus is on finding a big new idea. Failure to get to the big idea results from organizations demanding project plans and cost implications too early in the process, hampering the need for staff to undergo iterative learning.
 
Direction-setting is needed in cases where the organization does not know where it is going but has some idea of how to get there. This is fairly common in the case of improvements that can be achieved by the application of new and emerging technologies, where the potential benefits are fairly obvious but integration into current strategy is not always clear.
 
Process development is required in cases where the organization knows where it is going but does not know how to get there. In this case, there is a need to clarify how the goals can be achieved (Yapp, 2005). The Problem Types model highlights two important issues concerning the transfer of
innovation. First, of all four problem types the last three depend on strong leadership to support imagination and concept creation to clarify direction and to design and develop processes to support improvement and innovation (Yapp, 2005). Second, the introduction of an outside idea can move from one of the last three quadrants to the first. When this point is reached, it becomes important to vet the new idea or improvement by applying operational management.

 

Barriers to innovation


The proliferation of innovation awards programmes indicates that innovation is flourishing in the public sector. In many cases, however, innovation has not been able to prosper. White (2003), focusing on the South African experience, identifies a number of reasons why innovation fails to thrive, including: a) lack of access to resources for development and testing; b) lack of understanding about how to initiate innovation or what to do with new ideas or project possibilities that present themselves; c) inability to attract funding for long-term implementation; d) difficulties in finalizing arrangements for public-private partnerships; and e) inability to replicate and mainstream innovations. Albury (2005) identifies another set of barriers, including:

 

n  Short-term planning and budget cycles of government (the move by governments to medium-term cycles in addition to annual cycles is positive);

n  Poor skills in active risk or change management and a culture of risk-aversion;

n  Few rewards or incentives to innovate or adopt innovations;

n  Cultural or organizational constraints in using available technology;

n  Over-reliance on a small pool of high performers within the organization as sources of innovation;

n  Reluctance to close down failing programmes of innovation, i.e., what Hartley (2005) terms “exnovation”; and

n  Delivery pressures and administrative burdens.

 

Opportunities for innovation


In reviewing the innovation literature to enhance the operations of the Centre for Public Service Innovation (CPSI), White (2003) draws useful lessons for practitioners seeking to drive innovation. These include:

n  Innovation is contextual: As such, the form and shape that it takes is largely dependent on circumstances and the prevailing needs of the time;

n  Innovation is a means of expression: It arises to varying degrees in the presence of specific factors as well as specific combinations of these factors;

n  An environment for innovation can be created: As a result of the patterns of innovation developed by Glor (2001b), this will require strategies that address how public servants are motivated, how the internal culture of the organization is shaped, and how the organization responds to external challenges;

n  Innovation does not need to wait for a challenge or a crisis: Evidence on event based innovation shows that an organization can induce conditions that inspire employees to initiate innovative solutions; and

n  Creative ideas arise by bringing together groups of people who produce intellectual capital: An organization that is serious about innovation should enable and support communities of interest and networks that foster organic thought development.

 

Partnerships encourage successful innovation. Even where an individual has developed a solution, implementing or sustaining an innovation requires the buy-in of the department, access to internal or external funding, and in some instances the attention of policy-makers. In addition, innovations need tolerance for failure in order to prosper and grow. This requires a level of organizational maturity whereby a failure does not necessarily imply poor performance. Reflecting on two models for understanding the context within which innovation arises, White concludes that innovation occurs even without mechanisms to initiate it. Specific institutional mechanisms are required, however, to accelerate the speed at which innovation occurs as well as the frequency of occurrences (White, 2003).
 

Transfer of Improvements, Good Practice and Innovation


The final section brings together some of the issues raised earlier with a view to highlighting suggestions that could help develop methodologies and tools to facilitate the transfer of improvements, good practice and innovation. These issues are explored only briefly as they are addressed in much greater detail in other chapters of this volume. For ease of reference, the word innovation will be used in this section to mean improvements and good practices as well as innovations. The Best Practices and Local Leadership Programme (BLP), a programme of UN-Habitat, proposes a useful definition of transfers, i.e., “a structured learning process based on knowledge derived from real world experience together with the human expertise capable of transforming that knowledge into social action” (You and Kitio, 2005).
 

Innovation self-awareness


Innovation within the public sector is complex and challenging (White, 2003). As highlighted by Moore (2005) and Glor (2001a), ongoing systematic improvements can facilitate major changes. They also underscore that for constant innovation to occur, the public sector must evaluate its capacity to innovate and manage change. Innovation requires tools and techniques that can build the capacity of public officials to understand their own circumstances and to achieve greater self-awareness of innovation possibilities and constraints within their organizations. It may be more valuable to develop imperfect tools that improve public officials’ abilities to design solutions that work in their contexts than it is to develop detailed tools that attempt to provide a unified model for transferring innovation.

\

Focus on the problem

It is widely accepted that the starting point for many innovations is a process of drawing on the experiences of others. Public service institutions tend to find an innovation and look at how it can be transferred. Using the Problem Types model proposed by Yapp (2005), this may work when the task is operational management, i.e., when the organization knows where it is going and how to get there. For the remaining three problem types, however, it is more appropriate to start by defining the problem and then to search out approaches taken by others to solve a similar problem. These approaches could include groundbreaking innovations, incremental changes or even going back to basics. Box 1 provides an agenda that can assist in this task.
 
The above does not suggest that organizations remain closed to alternative approaches and only seek them out once the problem has been defined. Continually reviewing alternative approaches provides organizations with new ways of looking at problems. In fact, the stimulus for many innovations has come from solutions that were only remotely associated with the organization’s initial requirement. Reviewing solutions should be an ongoing organizational competence for innovation, together with strategic planning and future thinking.
 

Box 1

DECISION-FLOW AGENDA

 

n   
n  What is the service delivery/governance challenge that I am trying to solve?
n  What have others done to address a similar challenge?
n  What level of success was achieved through the implementation of the specific solution?
n  What did it cost and how long did it take to implement?
n  What were the prerequisites for the implementation (particularly legal, administrative,  and financial in the original context)?
n  Are there alternative solutions that could be proposed by employees of my organization or the recipients of services?
n   

Source: Patel, 2005

 

Learning and knowledge

As highlighted throughout this chapter, learning and knowledge-sharing lies at the heart of attempts to create innovative organizations and in transferring and adapting innovation. What is required, however, is a more detailed exploration of the process of knowledge-sharing and learning. Innovation suffers when the knowledge that an organization has amassed (either from its own practice or collated from elsewhere) is not able to be carried forward (Bhatta, 2003). Diffusion can fail because of impediments to the flow of information (whether engineered or inadvertent) or a mismatch between ideas generated in one context and the goals, capacity and incentives prevalent in another context (Donahue, 2005). Case studies, study visits and peer learning are traditional ways of sharing innovations. These, however, do not pay adequate attention to the key prerequisites that enabled the innovation (legal, economic, social and institutional issues) or to information on costs and resources required.
 
A conceptual model for thinking about learning and documentation as it applies to the transfer of good practices and innovation needs to look at information required for different purposes. For example, there are different information requirements for idea creation, action, and reflection/adaptation (as illustrated in Box II.2). As argued by Galim berti (2005), “the idea behind a specific innovation is more important than the innovation itself” and, as such, the key to the successful transfer of new ideas is the “establishment of a knowledge network on innovation” (Galimberti, 2005). Establishing such a network requires looking at both the supply and demand sides for knowledge.

 

Box  2

CHANGING LEARNING AND INFORMATION REQUIREMENTS

 

 
Given the potential offered by new technology as well as the lack of government contact points in areas that were formally disadvantaged, South Africa identified integrated one-stop centers as having significant value. As part of the process of establishing these centers, the Citizen Assistance Service (SAC) initiated by the State of Bahia, in Brazil, was identified as an innovative model that offered value. A brief look at the changing information requirements of this project highlights some conclusions that could be of relevance to other examples.  There were three distinct phases of learning in localizing and customizing the SAC innovation to the South African context. The first was getting a thorough understanding of the project. At this stage, the project was identified through knowledge dissemination by UNDESA and this allowed the South Africans to assess whether it was relevant to their own context.
 
On this basis, the SAC concept was integrated into strategy documents and action plans. Using the high level idea contained in the brief case study enabled the South African project team to generate enough buy in into the concept. Then, the team began to implement the idea in South Africa. At this stage the project team needed to grapple with a range of institutional, financial and design issues. The brief case study was no longer useful in guiding the project team and it was felt that a physical visit to the project was required. Conducting the visit to Brazil was therefore the second phase of the learning journey. This study tour was facilitated by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs through one of its Regional Centres, the Bahia International Centre for Innovation and Exchange in Public Administration. Having the visit at this stage was important for two reasons. First, the people in charge of the implementation benefited from the study tour. Second, the project team could ask very specific questions that addressed real concerns and difficulties in adapting the SAC to South Africa.
 
The project is now entering a third phase whereby the requirements for information-sharing are ongoing and of a deeper technical nature. Learning strategies include ongoing communication for problem-solving and even technical assistance where people involved in the implementation process in Brazil work with the South African team.
 

Source: Patel, 2005

 

Using the experiences of others


How an existing experience is going to be used determines what information the receiving organization requires as well as how it interacts with the organization responsible for the original innovation. An established innovation or good practice can be of value to others in three ways:

 

n  Learning: Learning takes place when the recipient organization has a good sense of the nature of the problem to which they seek a solution.

n  Benchmarking: In this case, a country or agency looks at what it has in place oris implementing and compares this with other established practices. Benchmarking is mainly at the level of results or outputs and focuses on how the innovation has managed to achieve them.

n  Replication: Based on careful assessment, a decision is made to introduce the innovation with minor modifications and customization. The assessment will include looking at the context, the nature of the innovation and its suitability.

 

The different uses of an experience are at the foundation of two decision matrices: Context-Risk (Figure 3) and Fit-Success (Figure 4). The Context-Risk matrix is more useful at the analytical and learning stage whereas Fit-Success is more useful at the implementation stage, particularly when committing time and resources. In terms of the Context-Risk matrix, replication requires strong context alignment and low risk. As there is never a case of complete context alignment and zero risk, replication will still require customization and modification.

 

Figure 3

CONTENT-RISK MATRIX

 

 
 
High Risk
 
 
 
 
Avoid
 
Benchmark
 
Weak Context
 Alignment
 
 
Strong Context
Alignment
 
 
 
 
Learn
 
Copy
 
 
 
Low Risk
 
 

                                                        Source: Patel, 2005

 
Another way of assessing how to use the experience of others is to plot chances of success with the fit of the innovation to the receiving organization and country. Determining fit and assessing success are not easy processes and will require the application of traditional tools of planning, i.e., cost-benefit analysis, institutional analysis, etc.
 

Figure 4

SUCCESS-FIT MATRIX

 

 
 
High Risk
 
 
 
 
Avoid
 
Copy
 
Low Chance
of Success
 
 
High Chance
of Success
 
 
 
 
Learn
 
Benchmark
 
 
 
Low Risk
 
 

                                                                                 Source: Patel, 2005

 

Concluding Remarks


The need to find ways that more effectively create public value in an environment of constant change has become an ongoing project for nation states and public services. Within this context, the global flow of ideas and approaches between and within countries has assumed greater importance over time. The ability to transform these ideas into successful action requires intervention on two fronts. The first is the development of tools and approaches for the assessment and transfer of innovation. The second is related to the enhancement of the innovation capacity of public service institutions. This chapter was a small contribution on both fronts.
 

*)The article above is a chapter of Innovations in Governance and Public Administration: Replicating what works. A United Nations Publication (2006). Blogged here for the purpose of spreading the knowledge on public administration.