How do we define innovation?
By Peter Baeck
How do we define innovation? Here are some helpful definitions:
“the creation and implementation of new processes, products, services and methods of delivery, which result in significant improvements in outcomes, efficiency, effectiveness or quality.” (Mulgan, G and Albury, D (2003) Innovation in the Public Sector, Cabinet Office)
“Innovation is change that creates a new dimension of performance”
At Innovation Unit, we know that it’s important to be clear about definitions, but equally that it’s important not to spend all day talking about them. In public services, the idea of ‘new solutions to unsolved problems’ is a good, simple working definition. However, remember that some ideas can be ‘new’ simply because they have been ignored for far too long.
A couple of distinctions are also helpful:
- Innovation is not invention: To innovate, you need to develop working models in practice as well as good ideas in theory
- Innovation is not improvement: To innovate, you need to create qualitative rather than incremental shifts in performance.
We use this notion of innovation across our work in public services:
- Local innovation
- Education and children’s services
- Third sector
- Policy and research
- Innovation worldwide
However, we work with many people – from local authority leaders to social entrepreneurs, who don’t wake up thinking about innovation. They just want a solution to their particular problem. For example, in the Danish city Horsens, two social entrepreneurs got fed up with the high levels of crime, bad health and poor education in their local community. They created a comunity house in the poorest area of the city, getting teachers, social care workers, doctors and local civic organisations to co-operate on funding and running the house. As a result, crime has fallen as and grades for the early year’s pupils have gone up. However, the interesting thing is that not once in interviews with Sønderbrogruppen do they talk about innovation. Instead they talk about solving problems. It was only after an academic learned of their success that their project got labelled ‘innovation’. Precisely – we are interested in innovation because it gets results.