Authors: Olivia Golden
2005
Publication:
Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation, Harvard Kennedy School

The innovations recognized through the Innovations in American Government Awards Program are selected because they are novel, effective, significant, and replicable. But, from the perspective of improving public sector outcomes, an important next question is not about the innovations themselves but about the conditions that make them necessary. This paper draws on the cases of the Innovations Awards 2005 finalists to address two questions: Why did these ineffective practices persist until the innovation occurred? Why did innovation happen at the time that it did?

Three major themes emerge in this report:

  1. Many different reasons--from political context to long-term underinvestment to internal agency failures--explain why problems persisted and an innovation was needed.
  2. Two of these reasons were particularly striking:
    • Failures in the political environment, such as conflicting goals or a stalemate among different political interests; and
    • Fragmented operational authority, where no one person had control of enough pieces to solve the problem.
  3. While both of these problems may seem hard to solve, the innovations offered an intriguing list of approaches to solving them, providing a useful starting point for further exploration. In particular, the solutions to fragmented operational authority offered even by this small group of programs were varied and creative.
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