• Opinion
  • March 22, 2019
  • 7 minutes
  • 1

If we want innovation to flourish, we have to evaluate it. Here’s why

Opinion: Even in pioneering Denmark, only one in two innovations are evaluated

This opinion piece was written by Lene Krogh Jeppesen, senior consultant at the Danish National Centre for Public Sector Innovation. For more like this, see our government innovation newsfeed.

In Denmark, 8 out of every 10 public sector workplaces implemented an innovation over 2015-2016. In that same period, only 45% were evaluated.

Why is this important, and who cares about evaluation when you’re busy innovating? When we’re not evaluating we’re missing out on important knowledge about the value of innovation.

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The Danish National Centre for Public Sector Innovation can now disclose brand new numbers from our InnovationBarometer. The InnovationBarometer was the world’s first official survey on public sector innovation. The results from the second edition of the Barometer will be published in Danish continuously through 2018 and 2019.

An innovation is more than an idea —  it needs to show value

We have chosen to also open up a broader discussion on evaluating innovation by sharing the new numbers on evaluation in English. Our goal is to engage a wider audience in this important topic, in order to catalyse innovation work in the public sector.

We feel confident that attention and action are needed, in terms of better and more evaluation of public sector innovation. The four other Nordic countries have also conducted Innovation Barometers — this shows that Denmark is not alone.

For example, only 40% of public sector innovations have been evaluated in the Norwegian municipalities and 31% in the Norwegian state sector.

We are missing out on firm knowledge about the value of innovation

The new number, 45%, is practically identical to the results from Denmark’s first InnovationBarometer, which showed that 44% of public sector innovations implemented in 2013-14 were evaluated.

This is just not good enough. An innovation is more than an idea resulting from a creative process. In our definition, innovations need to be implemented and show value.

We’re lacking a firm ground for showing the value of the innovations that aren’t evaluated. We’re missing out on important knowledge about the value the new solutions are showing on several bottom lines. These include: redeem political objectives, increase efficiency, achieve higher quality, enhance democracy and increase the organisation’s innovation capacity.

Of course, an innovation that hasn’t been evaluated can have created value — but we need to become much better at gathering firmer knowledge about their impact.

We need to diversify the purpose of our evaluation work

Let’s take a look at the evaluations that are actually done. What are the purposes of those evaluations?

In a pattern that is very similar to the first edition of the InnovationBarometer we can again see that learning is the winning purpose with evaluating. 82% of the evaluations have learning to improve the innovation initiative as a purpose.

Let’s take a moment to celebrate this purpose. Learning is of utmost important for our innovation work. We need to continuously (and preferably in a structured manner) include learning in the process that leads to an innovation that is implemented and shows value.

This is also where the evaluation field and the innovation field really can fertilise and support each other. By using some of the tricks of the trade from evaluation, we can make more knowledge-based choices in our innovation work.

Public sector innovation runs the risk of being branded as a fun process innovation consultants are running on the fringes of the public sector

However, only 21% state steering the innovation process as the purpose of the evaluation. So by prioritising learning so heavily, we might be missing out on using that learning to the full extent of what is possible.

Another serious problem is that only 28% of the evaluations aim to document the value of the innovation to the decision makers. Even in Denmark, with its relatively long history of public sector innovation, this is just not good enough.

If we do not manage to engage decision-makers in dialogue on the value of public sector innovation, we will not be able to move to an even more mature and systemic approach to public sector innovation.

Public sector innovation runs the risk of being branded as a fun process innovation consultants are running on the fringes of the public sector.

Where to go from here

I was once given this advice from a consultant: You start by starting. This goes for evaluating public sector innovation, as well. You start by looking at your innovation work, at integrating even the smallest evaluations. And you mature from there.

At the National Centre for Public Sector Innovation, we have tried to help innovators tackle the evaluation difficulties. One publication available in English is “A guide to evaluating public sector innovation”, which is intended to help innovators from beginning to end in their evaluations.

In order to further innovation work in the public sector, we need to be able to tell a much clearer and more knowledge-based story of how innovation delivers value. We need evaluation of innovation to become better integrated in our everyday work. —Lene Krogh Jeppesen

(Picture credit: Unplash)


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