How to innovate in the public sector?

In this blog, I discuss three theoretical ideas related to innovation in the public sector: public value, network governance and co-creation.

Public value
Public value is a framework in public administration, which was first popularised in the United States in Mark Moore’s book “Creating Public Value” in the 1990s. At first, it was developed as a way of thinking for helping public managers developing public policy and services: How to engage, convince and get onboard stakeholders, policy leaders and service clients? It has since expanded to the study of values that public organisations produce (for example efficiency, transparency and trust).

A core element for creating public value is establishing partnerships between public, private, and voluntary sector organisations and citizen. Critics say it suffers from vagueness and indeterminateness. However, it has been applied in practice most recently by the Netherlands Enterprise Agency (RVO) and the HM Treasury in the UK

Network governance
An oldie in the scholarly world compared to public value; its origins go as far back as the 1970s. Networks are a response to rising inter-dependence in the world in search of the best solutions to complex and shared problems.

As an effort of innovation, it involves all relevant parties in problem-solving. It is a commonly discussed way of bringing innovation that can be used as a part of a strategy to create public value. For example, in the UK, the government together with a number of agencies has developed a strategy for managing flood and coastal risks. The strategy sets the framework within which communities have a greater role in local risk management decisions.

Similarly, in the Netherlands, several agencies have collaborated to set up the Regional Network Governance of the Labour market. These networks consist of national and local public agencies and associations that work together with social partners and educational offices to improve job matching for diminishing social security costs and enhancing social and economic viability.   

A buzz word in the public sector. It is related to the more established idea of “co-production”. Co-production was developed in marketing to increase brand value by providing product customisation opportunities to customers. In the public sector, co-production relates to the exchange of experiences and knowledge among service providers and service users.

Co-creation has a broader meaning; it relates to services and policies. Most importantly,  co-creation involves collaborations that lead to new ways of doing things or new ways of solving problems.  It can also be used as a part of a strategy to create public value, but the relationship is unclear.

As a form of co-creation, participatory budgeting is the most diffused practice around the world. However, other forms of co-creation exist. For example, the Danish municipality Gentofte has set up ad hoc committees where politicians meet with citizens to develop a policy proposal on a specific topic. In 2012, they developed a youth policy which was then adopted by the Municipality Council without changes. 

These three theoretical concepts, public value, network governance and co-creation, set the basis of the COGOV project. In the upcoming months, they will be applied to a range of public sector organisations to find out how they are related and to what extent they lead towards an innovative public sector. 


This blog post is based on Horizon 2020 COGOV project deliverables (D1.1: Literature Review and D1.2: Repository of Practices)

Andreja Pegan has a PhD in Political Science and is a research fellow in the COGOV project at Northumbria University (GB). She has previously researched the communication of Cohesion policy in the EU and the public administration of the European Union.

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