By Steve Kelman

Blog archive

New book on innovation in government

The Brookings Institution has just published a collection edited by Sandford Borins of the University of Toronto called Innovations in Government: Research, Recognition, and Replication.

The collection is loosely tied to the twentieth anniversary of the Ford Foundation/Kennedy School of Government annual Innovation in American Government awards program (I say loosely because the program began in 1986, making this year its 22nd anniversary -- it would be nice to blame this on publication delays, for which academic presses are notorious, but I'm afraid in this case the authors of the collection, not Brookings, were the problem.) For purposes of full disclosure, I should note that I am one of the chapter authors in the collection.

The Ford Foundation/Kennedy School awards program is based on the proposition that encouraging innovation in government is part of a toolbox for encouraging better performance in government. Readers of this blog will also know my own view that a government environment encouraging innovation is also central to the ability of government to attract, and above all retain, a new generation of young people into public service. And several of the contributions in the collection discuss the link between innovation and democratic participation.

These are unusually tough times for encouraging innovativeness in government. One of the themes in the collection, and in the general scholarly literature on this topic, is why innovation is typically more difficult in government than in firms, and we are seeing these reasons in full play in the current environment. To quote an astounded British business leader who served for a while in government, in the public sector "failure is always noted and success is forgotten." And to quote Teddy Roosevelt, "You cannot give an official power to do right without at the same time giving him power to do wrong."

Since most innovations fail, this environment is not one that is conducive to innovation. And right now, with the ascent of Washington's fear industry, the innovation climate is the worst it's been for at least a decade.

Read this book -- unless you're afraid to do so.

Posted by Steve Kelman on Mar 18, 2008 at 12:09 PM


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