Canadian and Brazilian innovation win mixed reviews from OPSI

By on 05/12/2018 | Updated on 24/09/2020
Small steps for public sector innovation in Canada & Brazil (Images courtesy: Copacabana, Brazil - bisonlux/flickr; and Canadian Parliament - Michel Rathwell/flickr).

Public sector innovation is advancing in Canada and Brazil, but has yet to be a core objective, according to the preliminary findings of research by the OECD’s Observatory of Public Sector Innovation (OPSI). The goal, the report adds, is for innovation to become an integral part of everyday practice in the public sector, rather than being viewed as a threat.

In Canada, OPSI argues that the default assumption should not be that existing policies and programmes are still the most effective. Many of the ‘low-hanging fruit’ – such as removing obvious hurdles, recognition through awards and introducing new tools – have already been picked, it says.

Up North

However, the report lauds the work of the Social Innovation Lab within the Office of Energy Efficiency (OEE) at Natural Resources Canada. The Lab has worked to educate Canadians through their smartphones on how they can improve energy efficiency.

The work of ‘Free Agents’ within the Public Service of Canada is also highlighted. Free Agents have the freedom to select projects across the public service where their skills can advance innovation.

But this by itself is not enough, the report finds: Canada’s innovation systems remain fragmented, with most actors struggling in isolation. Innovation is often a by-product of other processes or of individual initiative, and generally a marginal rather than a core activity. Most existing innovation models are derived from the private sector, and cannot be assumed to be transferrable. A systemic approach is needed across the public sector, it argues.

Down South

The same issues recur in the preliminary findings on Brazil. The report points to a recent uptick in public sector innovation, particularly in the form of innovation labs and networks.

A significant achievement in a country as vast as Brazil has been the development by ENAP, the National School of Public Administration, of a shared online platform for civil servant training – allowing interoperability between different regional systems.

However, Brazil faces a specific cultural difficulty in the form of an ingrained fear of being seen to make mistakes – yet risk-taking is essential to any meaningful innovation. The country should do more to channel citizen feedback into a source of new ideas, OPSI says, suggesting that the French government’s manifesto for public sector innovation provides a starting point for articulating more clearly why public sector innovation is needed in Brazil.

About David Whitehouse

David Whitehouse’s career as a journalist includes 17 years as an editor with Bloomberg News in Paris. He now works as a freelance writer and editor for a range of publications including The Africa Report. David is the author of In Search of Rwanda’s Génocidaires, which examines the issues raised by the presence of alleged genocide participants in France. He is also the co-author of the English language autobiography of Cambodia’s long-time opposition leader Sam Rainsy.

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