Policy Design and Practice (Apr 2021)

The ecology of open innovation units: adhocracy and competing values in public service systems

  • Evert A. Lindquist,
  • Michael Buttazzoni

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 4, no. 2
pp. 212 – 227


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There have been concerted efforts to encourage innovation and to foster a more innovative and “open” culture to government and public service institutions. Policy and service innovation labs constitute one part of a broader “open innovation” movement which also includes open data, behavioral insights, digital services, data science units, visualization capabilities, and agile and lean methods. This article argues that we need to step back and better understand these “ecologies” of innovation capabilities that have emerged across public service institutions, and to recognize that as fellow “innovation” traveling companions they collectively seek to transform the culture of government and public service institutions, producing more effective, efficient and tailored policies and services. This article introduces analytic frameworks that should help locate policy and innovation labs amidst these other innovating entities. First, it delineates the various units and initiatives which can be seen as committed to new ways of working and innovating in public service institutions, often relying on “open innovation” rhetoric and approaches. Second, it shows how – despite the diversity among these entities – they nevertheless share similar attributes as “adhocracies” and are located as part of a broader movement and class of organizations. Third, we locate these diverse OI entities amidst broader public service systems using the Competing Values Framework. Fourth, this article situates the challenges confronting OI units developing and sustaining or broadening niches in public service systems. Finally, it identifies future research questions to take up.