Measuring Innovation in the Public Sector: a literature review

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4. Nordic countries (MEPIN)

Public sector innovation is prominently placed on the policy agendas of the Nordic countries. However, efforts to better understand and to promote public sector innovation are hindered by a lack of quantitative evidence. The Measuring Public Innovation in Nordic countries (MEPIN) project seeks to remedy this by developing guidelines for data collection and a questionnaire for collecting internationally comparable data. The data will be used to create a variety of indicators. These will aid in improving innovation in the public sector and interaction between public and business sectors.

Initiated by the Danish Agency for Science, Technology and Innovation in 2008, the project was supported by a number of funding and policy making agencies in the Nordic countries including DAMVAD (project leader), Danish Centre for Studies in Research and Research Analysis (CFA), Statistics Denmark, NIFU-STEP (Norway), Statistics Norway, Statistics Finland, Statistics Sweden, and RANNIS (Iceland).

The key stages of the project are:

  • Developing a conceptual framework (completed): The conceptual framework drew on existing work on public sector innovation and insights from innovation measurement in the business sector. Key elements of this framework informed a definition of public sector innovation and a set of indicators capturing innovation activities, determinants and barriers to innovation, and forms of external interaction.

  • Mapping user needs (completed): To ensure the usefulness of these indicators, the project analysed user needs through background research, interviews and dialogue with stakeholders from national and regional policymaking institutions and representatives of industry, trade and public sector organizations.

  • Survey and measurement issues (completed): Parallel to this, the project developed a survey methodology to collect data on public sector activities. Issues addressed were: method of classification (e.g. by activity); defining the statistical unit, survey coverage and sampling methods; and accounting for differences across activities and countries.

  • Feasibility study (completed): In order to gain a better understanding of how respondents conceptualize innovation and how innovation can best be characterised in the public sector interviews and focus groups were conducted with representatives of public sector organizations in all the Nordic countries.

  • Pilot questionnaire (completed): a pilot questionnaire was developed and tested with a small group of respondents. A larger pilot study was conducted in 2010.

  • Drafting of guidelines (completed): A final workshop was held in February 2010 where both the pilot test results and the guidelines were presented.

The project was completed in February 2011. It was organised into two stages. Stage 1 was the development of the preliminary measurement framework, and stage 2 was the conduct of pilot studies.

Stage 1: the development of a preliminary conceptual and survey framework for measuring public sector innovation. This drew on extensive reviews of earlier studies and related literature and on empirical work conducted by the project in the five Nordic countries. It included meetings with stakeholders from policymaking organisations and interest groups, and interviews with potential respondents from a variety of public sector organisations.

Stage 2: a pilot study was conducted in public sector organisations in Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden. A common Nordic questionnaire was developed and tested in the pilot study.

Some key findings were:

  • The usefulness of the indicators would be enhanced both by making the definitions more restrictive and potentially also introducing measures that allow the classifications of innovations.

  • In measuring inputs to the innovation process the pilot study results for quantitative measures of innovation personnel and expenditures were not particularly encouraging. It would be helpful to reconsider the definition of innovation activities, perform closer analysis of existing results, and act to ensure that the respondent is reporting innovation expenditures for the same unit for which the overall operating budget is reported

  • Effects and impact measures were found to be important but difficulties were encountered in testing these. They need to be revisited in future work.

  • The pilot studies demonstrate the challenges in defining and appropriate target population for public sector innovation surveys. Differences were found across Nordic countries in the types of organisations that are registered as enterprises, and some were not considered relevant.

  • Results suggest a generic questionnaire is possible and useful but it should be supplemented with a differentiated subset of questions to collect data on specific groups of institutions.

  • There remain a number of survey related issues which need further investigation, namely the basic structure of the public sector across a wide range of countries, the quality and coverage of business registers, comparison of business and other registers, and classifications or correspondence between NACE and COFOG classifications.

See Appendix 2 for the more technical details of this project.


In 2007, OECD Ministers agreed that in order to strengthen innovation performance and its contribution to growth, a strategic and comprehensive cross-government policy approach was required. They called upon the OECD to develop an Innovation Strategy to help improve productivity performance and increase the potential for long-term growth and development. In addition to developing policy, governments themselves are key players in the process of innovation as they search for more efficient ways of delivering public services.

A part of the OECD Innovation Strategy released in May 2010.specifically relates to public sector innovation, including designing data systems and improving the measurement for public sector innovation:

“Foster innovation in the public sector at all levels of government to enhance the delivery of public services, improve efficiency, coverage and equity, and reduce costs:

  • Develop coherent innovation frameworks for the public sector.

  • Design data systems for innovation.

  • Embrace e-government.

  • Engage in high-quality public-private partnerships.

  • Turn public information into a resource for innovation.

  • Improve the measurement of innovation “5

The OECD's National Experts on Science and Technology Indicators (NESTI) Working Party launched a task force in its June 2009 meeting to initiate work with a view to developing statistical guidelines for collecting internationally-comparable data on innovation in the public sector.

The Task Force, led by Denmark and the UK, is working on a scoping paper on the desirable content and structure of international guidance. The purpose of the scoping paper is to provide practical guidance, in the tradition of NESTI manuals. It would set out measurement issues that the guidance could cover, and propose options of what the guidance should be, as a focus for task force debate.

The scoping paper would start from the Oslo Manual for business innovation measurement, with appropriate adaptations and extensions. It would use lessons from earlier and ongoing initiatives from the Nordic countries, Korea, and the UK. Potentially work would concentrate on core recommendations and options in the first round.

The next task force meeting on measuring public sector innovation was held on 7-8 September 2010 in Paris. Since the NESTI work is based on consensus, the focus was on taking everybody’s views into account through the working group. The scoping paper was discussed at the NESTI meeting in November 2010 in order to get feedback from countries.

In addition to the NESTI task force, the OECD has a number of other ongoing activities relevant to the measurement of public sector innovation:

  • Centre for Educational Research and Innovation (CERI) measuring innovation in education and training

  • OECD Public Governance and Territorial Development Directorate Government at a Glance (2009 and 2011) plus various activities on innovation in public governance

  • OECD Health Division which examines performance indicators for health systems, ICTs in health etc.

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