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What are the cultural and organisational factors that can help or hinder innovation in the public sector? We look at the conditions that can support internal change – and how they can be cultivated and sustained.

What is it about an organisation that can help foster innovation? Enabling teams to become creative is one thing, but being able to sustain and grow a culture of innovation is challenging. The process of embedding innovation practices internally can be complex, but there are a few emerging key themes that you can look at to help guide the way. These include the role of:

  • Supportive leadership – people at a senior level who buy into the vision and support it in a concrete way with resources.
  • Collaborative communication – both within teams and across departments.
  • Experimental approaches – that seek to start small and then grow by building on those successes incrementally.

If you look at the dictionary definitions, you’ll notice that ‘change’ is a synonym for ‘innovation’ – and the importance of cultivating change is particularly important in the public sector. Innovating in the public sector often means working within (or with) a firmly established organisational culture. Often, a department also has a weighty history and a long organisational memory.

A shift towards the use of design methods by innovation teams might reflect an increasing need to develop more people-centred and efficient services and policies. But because innovation teams are a new phenomenon, they have to learn and experiment along the way. Innovation teams have the scope to change the very system in which they operate – yet they also need to be reflexive and make space to consider how they may need to change along the way, too, to reach their goals.

In this section, we explore some of the cultural and organisational factors that can help or hinder innovation. By looking at some of the common themes around the obstacles and challenges that public sector innovation teams often face, we can begin to lay the groundwork for talking about how to overcome them. We share some examples of best practice when it comes to organisational culture, including real life examples of innovation labs in action around the world, and we explore the role of change agents.