Handbook of Innovation in Public Services
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Handbook of Innovation in Public Services

Edited by Stephen P. Osborne and Louise Brown

Leading researchers from across the globe review the state of the art in research on innovation in public services, providing an overview of key issues from a multi-disciplinary perspective. Topics explored include: context for innovation in public services and public service reform; managerial change challenges; ICT and e-government; and collaboration and networks. The theory is underpinned by seven wide-ranging case studies of innovation in practice.
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Chapter 26: The once and future pioneers? The innovative capacity of voluntary organizations and the provision of public services: a ongitudinal approach

Stephen P. Osborne, Celine Chew and Kate McLaughlin


The innovative capacity of voluntary and community organizations (VCOs) as public service providers has long been a key assertion of the public policy debate in the UK, stretching back for almost one hundred years. This ascribed capacity has its basis in historical fact, as VCOs were the prime innovators of social welfare, and other, public services in the nineteenth century (Webb and Webb 1911). Subsequently this perception became embedded as the official view of this capacity (e.g. Beveridge 1948; Ministry of Health 1959; Home Office 1990; Labour Party 1990). Yet, despite such reification of this innovative capacity, little research has taken place to evaluate this claim. The only study of any substance is the American study of Kramer (1981) – now limited both by its American context and considerable age. Reviewing the literature in 1998, Osborne (1998a) concluded that such studies as there were, were limited by: (i) their reliance on normative argument rather than empirical data; (ii) their lack of attention to the mainstream innovation studies literature (e.g. Rogers and Shoemaker 1971; Rothwell 1975; Abernathy et al. 1983; Van de Ven et al. 1989; Herbig 1991) and the potential that this literature has for offering theoretical and empirical insights into the public service context; and (iii) the possibility of situating this capacity within a contingent framework that recognized the impact of the public policy environment upon innovativeness.

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