High-Impact Innovation in Government is Within Reach


For decades, governments have been concerned with the capacity of their residents and institutions to pursue science- and technology-based innovation widely accepted as the foundation of sustainable economic growth. Only recently have public entities begun to focus on the importance of innovation in how they carry out their own public missions.

Recognizing the need to bring greater attention to the issue of innovation in government, the Mohammed bin Rashid Centre for Government Innovation (MBRCGI) in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) recently organized the “Edge of Government” showcase at the 2016 World Government Summit. The World Government Summit is hosted annually by the government of the UAE and brings together government officials, thought leaders, policy makers, and private sector executives from across the globe to discuss the future of government.

SRI’s Center for Innovation Strategy & Policy had the privilege of working with the Mohammed bin Rashid Centre for Government Innovation to identify ground-breaking examples of innovation in government featured in the Edge of Government exhibition.

Three criteria were used to evaluate government innovation:

  • Novelty: the degree of newness and uniqueness associated with each innovation
  • Impact: the magnitude and scope of improvement to government efficiency and effectiveness attributable to each innovation
  • Replicability: the potential for replication in other countries and regions

Our researchers examined more than 140 public sector innovations across six continents and several major government mission area, including health, education, transportation, public safety, and many others.

Featured Innovation from Around the World

A set of 30 government innovations emerged from our analysis as truly radical and perception-changing, and meriting the type of global exposure the Edge of Government exhibition could provide. The SRI team worked closely with The Mohammed Bin Rashid Centre for Government Innovation and an outside design firm to bring these innovations to life through a series of engaging and interactive exhibits. Ultimately, ten of these innovations were included in the exhibition.

Among the featured innovations:

  • An online platform from Portugal for patients and their non-professional caregivers to share patient-created treatments for chronic illnesses with others suffering from similar conditions.
  • A program in Mozambique and Tanzania that uses specially trained rats to detect tuberculosis in humans.
  • A drone airport system in Rwanda for the delivery of urgent medical and emergency supplies in a region where only a third of the population have access to permanent roads.
  • A smartphone app from China that uses machine vision technology in the cloud to help consumers recycle their used electronic goods virtually effortlessly.
  • A building façade in Mexico City that uses sunlight and clever surface chemistry to rid the air of pollutants.

The other projects included at the Edge exhibition were a “pocket park” program from Mexico City; a preparedness PR campaign from the US based on a the threat of a zombie pandemic; a platform for crowdfunding of civic projects in the UK; an open government data initiative from Brazil; and a media monitoring and prediction platform from the European Commission; and from the UAE, a virtual reality based surgery training theatre and a tool to detect potential genetic abnormalities in newborns from digital images of infant faces.

At the close of the Summit, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE, and Ruler of Dubai, honored representatives from the government of Mozambique and Tanzania and the Belgian non-governmental organization APOPO with the Edge of Government Innovation Award. The award was given in recognition of the work described above using rats to detect tuberculosis in humans and also land mines.

Emerging Strategies for Public-Sector Innovation

The set innovations assessed during the project was remarkably diverse; however, certain patterns emerged regarding how the innovations operate. These patterns connect directly to broader trends in society and technology – such as the rise of collective decision making, the growing use of large-scale dataset, and the ubiquity of mobile personal technology – and point the way to specific strategies for enhancing the impact of government.

Beyond specific strategies, however, the project SRI conducted with the Mohammed Bin Rashid Centre for Government Innovation highlights two additional lessons for public sector innovation. First, it is clear that the most impactful initiatives in government innovation often involve close public-private partnerships to achieve their results. Second, high-impact government innovation does not necessarily require access to significant resources. Though some of the case studies of government innovation featured at the 2016 World Government Summit do represent large ambitious projects, most did not. Leading edge innovation in government is within reach of virtually any public entity.

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