Apolitical is where public servants in 140+ countries — including mayors, ministers and former heads of state — go to find the most innovative ideas in policy. So we recently held an exclusive masterclass with the Canadian public service on how to incorporate the fundamentals of an innovation lab into their day-to-day work.

Watch the full masterclass, led by former MindLab Director and Apolitical Advisor Thomas Prehn, and see a summary of 100 questions asked about public sector innovation by inspiring public servants across Canada.



100 QUESTIONS: What do you want to know about public sector innovation?

1 – What are the necessary conditions for winding down the business as usual once a new model has been demonstrated; and if conditions aren’t present, what are best tactics to create necessary conditions?

2 – What are the key competencies for designing and curating innovation systems in the public sector?

3 – What are the most impactful and efficient ways for the public sector to procure innovations if in-house capacity is low?

4 – How can we better build-in commitment and continuity to ensure innovative ideas survive their initial champions?

5 – Do short-term and/or small-scale pilots create more harm than good?

6 – How do I build my own “innovation toolbox” to then put to use when tackling projects that don’t necessarily scream “requires an innovative solution”?

7 – How can we develop a more creative bureaucrat?

8 – What are best practices to overcome policy red tape?

9 – Can innovation survive outside the fringe?

10 – How can we document attempts at innovation that happen outside the lab context?

11 – What are efficient ways to create an innovative culture?

12 – How can we normalize innovation and stop with the buzz words?

13 – What are examples of success in implemeting pilot projects broadly?

14 – How can we foster innovation within a bureaucratic structure?

15 – What are organisational barriers to remaining innovative?

16 – How can government best harness external ideas?

17 – Is internal innovation as important as leveraging external knoweledge?

18 – How can innovation move beyond the lab to sustainable implementation?

19 – How can innovation work in a regional office, removed from HQ and high level management?

20 – How can management and staff foster a culture of innovation within a multilayered organization?

21 – How can we incorporate and better address the UN Sustainable Development Goals within the public sector through innovation?

22 – How can we set up a localized innovation lab as a committee within an office?

23 – How do we avoid just creating an innovation bureaucracy in government?

24 – How do we create a less risk averse culture?

25 – How can we build support for trying new approaches when the outcome is not certain and the system, although flawed, still works?

26 – How can we embed innovation in public sector culture?

27 – How can innovation be nurtured among operational priorities?

28 – How can innovation help transform the way government conducts business, and the impact on the end client?

29 – How might we teach or empower people to leverage risk at all levels of government?

30 – How can we layer in the work of private sector innovators?

31 – How can we balance a focus on improving what is asked of labs versus giving leadership possible answers they are not perhaps looking for?

32 – How can we get small wins to encourage our teams?

33 – How can we combine cost containment with innovation?

34 – How can we compel senior management to take more calculated risks?

35 – How can we democratize experimentation and innovation?

36 – What kind of practices will allow us stay in the problem space and break our addition to solutions?

37 – How do you distinguish between innovation as a tool to add value and not to cut resources?

38 – What kinds of issues or topics are not suited for an innovation lab?

39 – What advice is there for new public servants who want to work at the intersection of innovation and collaboration?

40 – How do you change people’s perceptions of failure as part of the journey towards solution-making?

41 – How do you give senior managers an experience of what it is like to partner with an innovation lab?

42 – What strategies are there to balance the flux between drumming up interest or demand with a lab’s capacity to support that demand?

43 – What examples are there of different ways of sharing and co-creating internal documents, such as policies or memo submissions?

44 – How do you reconcile innovation with the idea of cuts and reductions?

45 – Is there an argument to be made for outsourcing innovation work verus internal capacity building and embedding innovation into an organisation’s DNA?

46 – How can we innovate in a climate of profound uncertainty?

47 – How do we evaluate innovative projects?

48 – How do we foster innovation within the constraints of approval requirements?

49 – How do we get departemental buy-in, and begin disabling the barriers that stagnate progress?

50 – How can we get more buy in for experimentation from senior leadership and political decision-makers?

51 – How can we get people to stop watering down the concept of innovation before they even start?

52 – How can we incorporate innovation in highly politicized spaces?

53 – How can we incorporate innovative concepts, tools and methods in varying career roles?

54 – How do we innovate when you do not hold positional leadership?

55 – How can we mainstream innovation in the public sector?

56 – How can we maintain momentum on projects that get stalled by bureaucracy?

57 – How do we make innovation accessible to all members of the public service?

58 – How can we reduce our fear of failure?

59 – How can we make innovation systemic, rather than in boutique hubs or labs?

60 – How do we employ the knowledge that is already out there?

61 – How do we manage expectations around innovation and the different ways we understand it?

62 – How do we negotiate public sector innovation as building a culture of change from within versus reacting to external disruption?

63 – What does innovation look like in the context of Enterprise Architecture?

64 – How can we reduce the way government bureaucracy and processes get in the way of innovation?

65 – How can we stimulate public innovation from within and coordinate the process across departments?

66 – How can we sustain public sector innovation initiatives so they can be applied in the workplace?

67 – How can we build a culture of permission to innovate and use innovative disciplines and methodologies in line ministries (outside of specialized innovation and service design teams)?

68 – What is the role of a policy entrepreneur, and is there evidence to support it?

69 – What is the place of innovation in public sector IT?

70 – How are other places integrating innovation in public art?

71 – How can we model new approaches for HR innovation?

72 – How can we weather the ebbs and flows of political interest in innovation as well as begin to address systemic issues?

73 – What does impact evaluation look like in the context of innovation?

74 – What does implementation — going from idea to product — look like in the context of innovation?

75 – How can the federal government innovate in policy development?

76 – How can agencies with innovation labs be better informed about their activities?

77 – How can we integrate stakeholder and public engagement into innovation activities?

78 – How can we avoid common pitfalls?

79 – What are the methods used to come up with innovation ideas and to share them for uptake?

80 – What are the most effective ways to build capacity amongst public servants?

81 – How can we tangibly apply advanced technologies to policy-making?

82 – How can behavioural science be used as a tool for foreign policy?

83 – How can we better communicate results?

84 – How can we spearhead ideas without much power (in the hierarchy of an organisation) and with few resources of one’s own?

85 – What are strategies and processes for more evidence-based, innovative and collaborative interdepartmental problem-solving, decision-making, and implementation on complex issues?

86 – What are success stories of out-of-the-box solutions being implemented within the public sector, and the effect(s) of such solutions on the end clients?

87 – What is the role of third-party innovation labs?

88 – What are tips for innovating across hierarchies?

89 – What are top methods and practices for influencing change in large organizations?

90 – We are setting up an innovation lab; what are key aspects to ensure success?

91 – What can I do as an entry-level public servant?

92 – What day-to-day practices distinguish innovators from others?

93 – How might we improve government (social and digital) communications from a UX perspective?

94 – What does innovation mean in a non-digital context

95 – What is an innovation lab? How do you create one and how does it work?

96 – What role should central government play to create the conditions for innovation within departments at all levels?

97 – When should we situate labs within the bureaucracy versus outside government?

98 – Where are the margins in research?

99 – Where does process improvement meet organizational culture?

100 – Why is there so little focus on building skills and capacity for all public servants to innovate, not just those working in labs?

(Picture credit: Pexels)