Innovation for Better Management: The Contribution of Public Innovation Labs

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Sep 2016
The technological, economic, and social changes of recent years have required governments to adapt to new challenges and growing demands from civil society. In many countries, and at different levels of government, this has led to the creation of innovation labs that aim to promote policy innovation in diverse ways. This paper analyzes the roles of innovation labs in Latin America, examines their challenges, and compares them to best practices and characteristics that current literature associates with higher levels of innovation in the public sector and in other organizations. Based on a survey of lab directors and the undertaking of two case studies, this paper describes the scope of innovation labs in Latin America and discusses the challenges they face to (i) work on central issues, (ii) achieve the adoption and scale up of their innovations, and (iii) ensure their sustainability. There are four key factors that determine the success of innovation labs in overcoming these challenges: two of these are of a political and institutional nature, namely leadership support and policy networks, while the other two relate to lab methodologies, namely the technical adaptation of their innovations and the building of a shared meaning. Additionally, two major differences have been identified between the innovation labs discussed herein and those of other regions, as described by the existing literature: a greater focus on issues of open government and less rigorous testing of their innovations, such as randomized experimentation and impact evaluation. Lastly, this study provides the relevant conclusions and recommendations on how to establish innovation labs as effective channels to manage innovation in government, along with its in-herent risks, and modernize public administration.