Public innovation: from working together to working together

Research into success factors of interorganisational innovation in the public sector

In the past six months, Pien Aldenzee has been working on her master's thesis at Novum. She recently graduated from the Master's program in Communication, Policy and Management at the Department of Public Administration and Organizational Science (USBO) at Utrecht University. She came to us through a guest lecture that one of our team members gave at UU. We asked her to conduct research into the success factors of interorganizational innovation in the public sector. These insights are very valuable for a lab that increasingly wants to collaborate with other (government) organizations. Her full thesis can be downloaded at the bottom of this article. She summarized the main conclusions and recommendations in this handy handout:

Interorganisational innovation tips:

Formulate the objective together

  • Ensure that the objective is formulated jointly and create openness about mutual interests or different interpretations that may underlie this. This way you ensure that a shared ownership is created instead of a 'we' versus 'your' perspective. Moreover, any differences are discussed at an early stage. When these only emerge at a later stage, it appears that the differences are often difficult to bridge (er).
  • Be honest about each other's expectations in terms of time and resources, as they may vary by organization. Do not make promises or commitments that cannot be kept and adjust the objective accordingly. This prevents later disappointments or setbacks in the process.

Find a balance between agreements and flexibility

(also for when things go wrong!)

  • Innovation needs space, creativity and flexibility; at the same time, little gets off the ground if good agreements are not made. Balance sheet in between is important. Although coincidences sometimes have to be anticipated, setting deadlines helps to achieve a degree of concreteness.
  • Divide and record tasks and responsibilities. Also pay attention to agreements about when things go wrong or things go differently than planned. When nothing has been recorded and there is disagreement, it is more difficult to get out together or to give each other something. Scheduling evaluation moments can make it easier to address each other about (non-compliance with) agreements.
Discuss leadership and give meaning to this together
  • Leadership is important, but incorrect interpretation can have negative consequences. Therefore make the role of leader negotiable. Experience shows that the most value is attached to facility and horizontal leadership. A leader must enable a good process, but is equal to the rest of the group. When a leader pushes his or her own opinion or agenda, this has negative consequences on the motivation and involvement of others.
  • In addition, a leader must prioritize the process and the potential activities involved. With innovation it is easy to deviate from the agreed plan or to respond to interesting developments, but a certain degree of focus is also important to avoid getting caught in all kinds of side paths.
Involve the right parties at the right time
  • Think carefully about which parties you involve when and what influence this can have on the (implementation of the) innovation. Experience shows that projects with two or three parties often work best because in these cases the parties involved are often motivated and feel great responsibility. Too many parties involved often lack a sense of responsibility and are more likely to take a wait and see approach because it is expected that someone else will take on the tasks.
  • At the same time, involving too few parties is sometimes also disadvantageous. Involving relevant parties (whether or not consciously) or only later can lead to them being less involved or feeling passed. This can negatively affect the process, especially as it causes slowness. After all, it takes time to get these parties on board. So keep this in mind.
  • Collaboration in itself should not be the goal, but solving the problem. Therefore make sure that you work with the right parties and that everyone at the table knows why he / she is at the table and what he / she can contribute. Diversity - both in terms of personal characteristics and professional knowledge - can provide innovative perspectives. Involving a 'neutral' party such as an interest group or university may reduce tensions between public organizations.
Motivation and mandate
  • Both innovation and collaboration are complex processes with a lot of uncertainty. It is often different than planned in advance and therefore the motivation of stakeholders involved. Belief in the project, enthusiasm and the willingness to invest time and energy in it must be available to everyone. With little motivation, it is more difficult to recover from setbacks (which are often part of innovation).
  • Also pay attention to the mandate of the actors involved in the cooperation. Discuss this and, if necessary, think about how this can be increased. Few mandates can cause slowness in the process because permission must always be requested internally. This can cause frustration with the other parties. Therefore, be honest about your own mandate so that other people's expectations are set accordingly.

Download the full master's thesis from Pien Aldenzee

The fact that we are regularly approached by students who are looking for guidance on their Master's thesis tells us that Novum has a unique place in the innovation landscape for the public domain. We are therefore always a bit honored, but unfortunately cannot honor every request; we have to select. We do this, among other things, based on the applicability of the subject to our own practice. We prefer to work with educational institutions to plot the questions that concern us for research.

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