I have been thinking about the concept of spare capacity. In the public sector this is called waste however, one of the consequences of a system operating at a very tight margin, and in which there is little tolerance of learning from failure, is that there is no sufficient space for people to experiment (Parsons, 2006). The absence of learning results in the absence of creativity and the absence of creativity results in the lack of innovation. This seems apparent and is just another way of stating that creativity, innovation and change are all linked with the expectation that a positive outcome will occur. In the public sector there is an added link and that is efficiency. Often this link is seen as an obstacle to creative endeavors however, this need not be the case as efficiency and stability have their place as it relates to creativity and innovation.
Innovation cost has widely been examined in the public sector because cost is a critical component of the efficiency dimension of organizational performance and is a relatively easy characteristic to measure (Wolfe, 1994). As I mentioned in other posts the public sector is risk averse and cost is a factor in this aversion; a mitigating approach to the risk averse firm is sustaining innovation. Sustaining innovation is also known as incremental innovation (Lanier, 2013), and improves whatever is already in place. One approach to incremental improvement is cycle time; increasing speed to enable faster feedback from any variety of stakeholders. Going faster can also reduce waste because it can provide information that keeps the direction of research on a more fruitful track, thus reducing unnecessary exploration (Reinertsen & Shaeffer, 2005). Faster feedback may provide faster service provision, something unexpected in many government agencies. That sounds like innovation to me.
Lanier, J. A. (2013). Value Creation Options and Their Leadership Implications. Journal of Strategic Leadership, 4(2), 35-51.
Parsons, W. (2006). Innovation in the public sector: spare tyres and fourth plinths. The Innovation Journal: The Public Sector Innovation Journal, 11(2), 1.
Reinertsen, D., & Shaeffer, L. (2005). Making R&D Lean. Research-Technology Management, 48(4), 51-57.
Wolfe, R. A. (1994). Organizational innovation: Review, critique and suggested research directions*. Journal of management studies, 31(3), 405-431.