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 10: Innovation in public services: engaging with risk

Stephen P. Osborne and Louise Brown


The policy trajectory privileging innovation as a means to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of public services in the UK has been moving at pace. Referred to recently by NESTA (the National Endowment for Science, Technology, and the Arts) as ‘the innovation imperative’ (Harris and Albury 2009) and enshrined within the UK government White Paper Innovation Nation (Department of Innovation, Universities and Skills (DIUS) 2008), the desire to use innovation to reform public services is strong. This commitment has increased as the extent of the economic recession and its impact on public expenditure have been exposed (Patterson et al. 2009, p. 12). However, the same research also identified that this economic climate may lead to a focus upon less risky types of innovation, irrespective of comparative levels of need. Within this policy context, one issue that we argue has received less attention than it deserves is that of the role of risk in innovation (Osborne 1998; Brown 2010; Osborne and Brown 2011). Often within the public service context, risk is presented as a negative phenomenon – at best as something to be minimised if not avoided. Yet writers on innovation in both the business and public sectors have emphasised the centrality of risk to successful innovation (e.g. Singh 1986; Borins 2001). This chapter argues that current public service frameworks do not facilitate the successful negotiation and management of risk within the innovation process and argues for an alternative based upon negotiated risk governance rather than minimisation.

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