We hear it often: if Denmark is to succeed in the future, we have to be innovative. However, while many believe this mantra to be primarily concerned with private companies, we are currently witnessing a growing focus on innovation in the public sector, where many changes are taking place, but where the conditions for innovation are different.
In the private sector, we often see a separation of development and operations, whereas innovation in the public sector, to a much higher degree, is the result of collaborations between citizens, professionals and management in terms of handling and finding new solutions for everyday problems. Which is why public leaders who want to implement innovative improvements should engage in operations and find ways to cleverly balance changes and stability. This is the message communicated in a new anthology that provides various research-based perspectives on how to lead innovation as well as practical tools for leaders.
The book is entitled ‘Ledelse af offentlig innovation’ and it disseminate the findings of nineteen researchers and innovation experts. Behind the anthology are Anne Reff Pedersen, Professor (with Special Responsibilities) at Copenhagen Business School and Ph.D. and Management Consultant, Ditte Thøgersen.
For some years, Anne Reff Pedersen has conducted research on innovation in public organisations, and she defines innovation as intended change, which develops, implements and spreads new creative ideas that generate qualitative changes within a given context.
In one of her research projects, she studied the relationship between the level of importance leaders afford innovation and the amount of time they use on innovation, and she found a discrepancy.
“Many say yes, innovation is important, but at the same time, they say that they don’t spend much time on innovation. Perhaps because it can prove difficult, and it’s my hope that with this book, we’ll be able to better prepare some of the leaders,” she explains, and then emphasises that the best leader of innovative processes is not necessarily a great innovator in their own right, but rather someone who knows how to allow other people’s innovative skills to thrive and how to bring the right people together.
And this is something specifically public organisations need, the researcher explains.
“If we’re going to solve the great challenges we will be facing in the future, while still maintaining a welfare system like the one we know, we need continuous solutions, new collaborations, professional development and daring experiments,” she explains, and then continues:
“Each day, public leaders make many decisions that shape how the public sector works and what citizens meet. Regardless of whether you’re a head of department, a chief executive, a head nurse or a school principal, you play an undeniable part in the development of the public sector. Which is why it is important that you have the tools and methods to mobilise, guide and engage your employees and other participants in the development and implementation of innovative solutions,” says Anne Reff Pedersen.
A high level of knowledge creates a great point of departure for innovation
So, how do we do it? How do we implement successful changes in the public sector, where democratic decision-making and the bureaucratic organisational structure are basic conditions?
First of all, innovation is not incompatible with bureaucracy, states Anne Reff Pedersen:
“In fact, we see a lot of innovation in the public sector in Denmark, and several studies show that private and public organisations are equally innovative. The difference being that innovation in the public sector usually has different premises and reasons compared to innovation in the private sector. Public innovation is more often driven by political decisions as well as external and internal collaborations rather than a competitive market.”
She points to the fact that one of the main reasons why the public sector in Denmark is so innovative is due to the high level of knowledge as a result of highly educated employees.
“Denmark has some very well-educated and highly skilled public leaders and employees with a great deal of personal engagement and professional ambition,” she explains.