5 Prerequisites for Sustainable Government Innovation

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Working together involves everyone.

Creating a thriving culture of innovation is difficult for any organization, but governments, in particular, can struggle with it. There are five pieces to creating sustainable government innovation that must be in place, whether municipal, state, or federal, to make innovation sustainable in government.

1. Ability to Experiment

In some countries, such as the US, states serve as a sort of testing ground for new policies. The state designs the policy, implements it, and if it works, other states learn from its example and design their own. This ability to experiment is crucial because it gives ideas a place to be refined; for example, Massachusetts’ healthcare law was scaled up to the federal level with several changes driven by what that state learned from implementing the policy. Find these places to experiment. Having a place to put refined ideas to the test will only improve them.

2. Ability to Sunset Outdated Infrastructure

Governments tend to favor older infrastructure, not because of an institutional aversion to change, but because older infrastructure has been thoroughly tested for security and safety. However, this has a distinct downside; as the pace of technology speeds up, older infrastructure ages much more quickly and can become a liability.

Tools need to be in place to carefully transition to better, more effective infrastructure, especially in fast-moving areas such as computer systems and data analysis. Even for systems that have been recently replaced or upgraded, a strategy should be in place to consider when to move on, what it will cost, and what the potential stakeholder impact will be, all of which factors are to be weighed against potential benefits.

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Always ask who needs innovation the most.

3. Existence of Feedback Loops

Feedback is the fuel of innovation. Without knowing whether and how an idea has worked, that idea shrivels and dies. Feedback loops should be built into any innovation approach, whether they’re citizen contact lines or an internal process constantly collecting data.

Develop clear ways for this fuel to flow into your ideas, by ensuring that the feedback arrives quickly and clearly and that stakeholders know how to provide it in the first place. Have clear instructions on where to send feedback, who should read it, and how it’s routed through your organization. Also, have procedures in place to reply, to make clear that feedback is read, and to encourage more feedback in the future.

4. Incentives for Product or Service Improvement


While civil service is as much about working to improve the lives of the public as it is about employment, there need to be incentives, internal and external, social and financial, to continue improvements. This can be as simple as using feedback and metrics to demonstrate that improvement makes a positive difference, or as complex as financial incentives for private companies in public-private partnerships (P3s).

5. Budget Constraints for End-Users

Budgets need to be balanced, and governments are accountable to their citizens for where tax money goes. Budget constraints, especially for public-facing innovation committees and ideas, should be clear, easy to understand, and well-documented. This will both assist in the stakeholder process, as some will inevitably be concerned with how much is being spent, and will help track how spending drives, or doesn’t drive, innovation under your strategy.

Building sustainable innovation in government, in the end, is about balance. To learn how to better strike this balance, join our newsletter!

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