Public organizations around the world are facing unprecedented challenges that affect their legitimacy. These challenges refer to issues such as the ageing population, climate change and youth unemployment. At the same time, these organizations are forced to cope with shrinking budgets. Further, they are confronted with growing demands from their employees who, among other things, increasingly seek flexible working programs. In order to address these challenges, public organizations are increasingly urged to develop and adopt new practices that amount to a discontinuity with the past. We refer to this as public sector innovation.

Despite the recent attention, there is a lack of a coherent and evidence-based understanding of this topic. Responding to this knowledge gap, this research aims to reveal the mechanisms driving public sector innovation and seeks to assess its outcomes. With this goal in mind, we examined the specific case of the adoption of teleworking in Dutch municipalities.

Using various methods that have been scarcely, if ever, used in the public administration literature, the conclusions of this study challenge the widely held assumption that innovation is always beneficial (the ‘pro-innovation bias’) by identifying various unintended consequences. Further, the study unravels the ‘black box’ of the innovation process within organizations by focusing on the perceptions of various involved stakeholders. Finally, it highlights the value of managers who empower their employees.

The results of this study have implications for public administration scholars, public managers and policymakers. In order to increase the practical value of this study, a practitioner-oriented innovation scan has been developed that can be used to measure the innovativeness of public organizations and their employees. This instrument can be used to first understand, and then improve, the innovativeness of public organizations and public servants.

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V.J.J.M. Bekkers (Victor) , L.G. Tummers (Lars)
Erasmus University Rotterdam
Department of Sociology

de Vries, H. (2018, October 5). Unravelling public sector innovation. Retrieved from