What’s happening in public sector innovation in other countries?

[Originally published on the Australian Government Public Sector Innovation Network under a Creative Commons 3.0 BY AU licence]

Did you know that 2015 is the year of innovation in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and that every government department in the UAE will have a Chief Executive Officer for Innovation, to be trained at Cambridge? That the UAE Government has approved a decree to allocate 1% of their federal budget to support innovation in the public sector, in order to make it a daily practice throughout government? That they have established a Centre for Government Innovation which “aims to encourage and motivate innovation in the public sector through making available tools essential to formulate and develop organisational structures and procedures. It will also coordinate innovation labs in government entities to build capacity for innovation across the national workforce”?

Countries around the world are looking at how to embed public sector innovation, and while each country will have to find the mix of initiatives that works best for them, there’s much that can be learnt from the experiences of others.

We thought it would be worth having a look at some of the other initiatives of note from governments around the world. What are national governments doing to support public sector innovation?


Actions from the US Government have included:

  • An Executive Order ‘Using Behavioural Insights to Better Serve the American People’ which encourages agencies to identify where applying behavioural insights could deliver substantial benefit, to develop strategies for applying behavioural insights, and to recruit behavioural science experts. The Order also formalises the ‘Social and Behavioral Sciences Team’ which will provide agencies with guidance and advice. This activity will be reported on yearly – the 2015 annual report has been published
  • An Executive Order ‘Presidential Innovation Fellows Program’ making the program permanent. The Presidential Innovation Fellows Program seeks to recruit entrepreneurs, startup founders, and innovators with experience at large technology firms, to work with innovators inside government, deploy private sector strategies, and to focus on some of the biggest and most pressing challenges. Details of some of the projects are outlined in a fact sheet
  • An increased sophistication in the use of prizes and challenges by the public sector, primarily through the gov platform. A review of 97 competitions and challenges in financial year 2014 found more prize competitions and challenges to develop low-cost software and IT solutions; more prize competitions and challenges that focus on supporting entrepreneurship and commercialisation; and new models for engaging the public and building communities
  • Work on an Open Innovation Toolkit, with the first module ‘Citizen Science and Crowdsourcing Toolkit’ published
  • The ongoing work of teams such as 18F, the US Digital Service, and the Innovation Lab at the Office of Personnel Management which are working to improve, redesign or reconceive government services and their delivery.


Some of the work done in the UK has included:

  • The development of an Open Policy Making Toolkit covering topics such as involving the public in policy making; getting a quick overview of a new policy area; connecting with top experts in a policy area; using data better; and ensuring that policy works in the real world
  • The work of the UK Policy Lab, “helping design services around people’s experience, using data analytics and new digital tools”
  • The ongoing work of the Government Digital Service, leading the digital transformation of the UK government
  • The ongoing work of the Behavioural Insights Team in applying behavioural insights in government service design and delivery
  • The What Works Network, which aims to improve the way government and other organisations create, share and use high quality evidence for decision-making
  • The ongoing work of the Horizon Scanning Programme Team, which coordinates strategic horizon scanning work across departments, drawing on insights from experts in and outside government to challenge our thinking.


Denmark has the long-running MindLab, which is “a cross-governmental innovation unit which involves citizens and businesses in creating new solutions for society. We are also a physical space – a neutral zone for inspiring creativity, innovation and collaboration.”


The 27th Region is “a ‘lab for public transformation’ working with public administrations to design public policies that are different. Through programs of action-research, the organisation tests methods and expertise from design and creative design, social sciences (ethnography, sociology, participant observation) or amateur activities (do-it-yourself, popular education). The experience of users, civil servants and citizens is the starting point for imagining the public administration and policy of tomorrow.”


  • Canada has established an Innovation Hub under the Privy Council Office. The Central Innovation Hub acts as a resource for departments and agencies, providing guidance on new tools and techniques; as a connector and focal point for innovators across the system; and as an innovation catalyst, working with departments on specific policy, program and service challenges to help design innovative solutions
  • Canada also has Policy Horizons Canada, which is a “foresight and knowledge organization within the federal public service. Through scanning and foresight we anticipate emerging policy challenges and opportunities in a rapidly changing and complex world. This work supports medium-term policy development by the Government of Canada.”

Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland has experimented with an Innovation Lab, including looking at Regulatory Impact AssessmentsThe Lab “offers a fresh, alternative approach to developing both strategic and tactical solutions to complex policy and operational issues.”


Some initiatives in Singapore include:

  • The Human Experience Lab which applies design thinking to improve public service. The Lab has worked with agencies to reframe existing problems, better understand the needs of customers and stakeholders, build capabilities in human-centred design techniques, and tell stories to inspire decision-makers in ways that will inform their policy design, implementation and communication
  • The creation of a Strategic Policy Unit which will identify national priorities and come up with action plans that draw on resources across all its agencies
  • The Smart Nation Programme Office. “We are putting in place the infrastructure, policies, ecosystem and capabilities to enable a Smart Nation. We are also encouraging a culture of experimentation and building, and working with citizens and companies to co-create solutions.” Activities covered under this banner include sharing real-time data, mobile applications, and hackathons.


Chile has established an innovation lab, Laboratorio de Gobiernowhich looks at innovation projects (reframing and experimenting with services), innovation skills (spreading practical knowledge across and outside government) and ecosystem management investment (engaging outside talent through challenge prizes and civic engagement).


Finland has a Change Makers Network which is “willing to test and adopt modern, explorative and digital ways of working. Participants are all volunteers, and not nominated to represent any particular point of view or ministry in the network. The network-model differs dramatically from the tradition where a working group or committee is set and participants are nominated to fulfill a particular, often elsewhere set target.”


Sweden has launched Co-Labs, a national design lab that builds capacity for innovation. “In contrast to the typical notion of a design lab as a studio placed on a specific location, Co-Labs builds on strengthening the capacity for innovation in the everyday contexts and environments where societal challenges exist and are to be tackled. The lab will create a learning environment for design and innovation in relation to trying to tackle these challenges.”


The Malaysian government has done some work to support big data analytics, including:

South Africa

South Africa has the Centre for Public Service Innovation (CPSI) which “was established to identify, support and nurture innovation in the public service, with a view to improve service delivery. The CPSI seeks to celebrate the successes of individuals, teams and departments in the quest for a more effective, efficient and accountable government…. The CPSI facilitates unearthing, development and implementation of innovative ideas within and throughout the public service. It achieves this by facilitating pilot projects aimed at demonstrating the value of innovative solutions, and through activities that create an enabling environment within the public sector to support and sustain innovation. The CPSI’s cross-sector reach makes it a resource for the whole of government, thus bridging institutional boundaries.”

Other initiatives?

Of course there are likely to be many, many more initiatives happening around the world. One of the things we know from public sector innovation in Australia is that it can be hard to track all of the clever new things that are being done. Agencies are always seeking to improve on what they do, including trying new approaches. And some people don’t describe what they’re doing as innovative, or are too busy with the doing to have time for the telling. A number of initiatives are described in the Observatory of Public Sector Innovation.

We’re most interested in those initiatives from national governments that are about supporting the public sector to become more innovative.

If you know of any other relevant developments by governments, we’d appreciate if you could point them out to us in comments or by email.