Understanding Innovation: What Inspires It? What Makes It Successful?


Jonathan Walters, December 2001

Public sector innovation may be considered an oxymoron, but for 15 years the Ford Foundation and Harvard Kennedy School have been identifying innovative public sector programs at the state, local, federal, and tribal government levels through the Innovations in American Government Awards Program, funded by Ford and administered by the Kennedy School. What the initiatives identified through the program tell us is that despite government’s well-deserved reputation for being unfriendly to new ideas and change, government has actually proved to be remarkably – even resiliently – innovative. But where does innovation come from? What drives people to innovate? And in a political world where program survival is often a matter of having the right political patrons, what characteristics make for sustainable, replicable, results-based innovation?

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