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Public Sector Innovation Roadblocks

Part 3 of 5 in my Business Innovation Series: In this post, we uncover easy-to-encounter (or some examples of what to expect) innovation roadblocks that can typically occur before choosing your innovation strategy route.

Business Innovation Series (Part 3 of 5): Expect Roadblocks in Public (and Private) Sector Innovation

This post discusses key innovation differences between the public and private sectors. However, before we start, let’s figure out why innovation is so difficult.

And then move on to public sector innovation roadblocks…


Links to the previous posts:

Innovation, Daydreams, and Roadblocks

I've seen this movie before GIF

Picture this: you wake up on the day of a big project presentation, take a deep breath in, stretch your arms outright like they’re mirroring the arms on your ceiling fan, and smile so huge that you almost strain your chin.

Why are you so thrilled?

Because you know that you’ve crossed off all the T’s and dotted every last I, aligned your vizzes with your decks, and had a dream that you ideally monitored and documented all those elicitations and collabs (with the help of your pet A.I. stapler, of course!)


You check your smartphone and find a text from your (boss’s) boss “updating” you that THE key external project stakeholder (unexpectedly) resigned (yesterday) and asked what you’re going to do about it.

Lucky for you, you decided to listen to your (boss’s) boss’s advice the last time — that everyone needs to “get more innovative to mitigate last-minute hurdles and roadblocks.”

As they say, “innovation is the lifeblood of human progress” (Ghosh, 2020).

I mean, who doesn’t love predicting the future? Especially when it comes to innovation!

Public Sector Innovation GIF

In all seriousness, though, you know it’s painstakingly iterative if you’ve worked on innovation projects before. Even more so if your team has “cohesiveness aversion.”

So why is innovation so challenging?

Well, in my opinion, Emilia Saarelainen, Innovation Officer at the UNHCR, says it best:

Innovation is not about finding the new bright idea, it’s not about having all types of processes in place and it’s not about technology (data isn’t tech, btw). It’s about people, those ones who are passionate about what they do and want to drive change. People are the backbone of innovation. And that’s exactly the reason why it’s also so difficult.

Emilia Saarelainen

So, where does this leave us?

Well, if your project team is on the same page and ready to go…there are tons of routes to take. First, however, you might want to heed your (boss’s) boss’s advice again and think about mitigating roadblocks while planning your innovation project journey.

One place to begin is understanding the differences between the public and private sectors!

Public vs. Private Sector Innovation Roadblocks

So, what are some of the roadblocks you might encounter before choosing an innovation focus?

Slow down, you go-getter-innovator, you!

First, we must understand the (many) differences between public and private sector innovation!

If you’re new to this, the video below is an excellent introduction to the differences between public and private sector innovations. Give it a watch!

Webinar: 9 Principles for Building Innovation in the Public Sector

Public Sector Innovation Webinar Video Take

As we saw in the video, Mohammed Nayal mentions that innovation in the public sector is more accessible (don’t confuse this with website accessibility) because they don’t have the same competitive drivers and motivators that one might find in the private sector (Nayal, 2016, 6:10). In addition, he discusses three things to consider in public sector innovations (Nayal, 2016, 6:40):

  1. The size of the public sector and potential impact on GDP to boost the local economy
  2. How the local economy adjusts and evolves with change
  3. If the public sector is what sets the rules for the private sector

Public Sector Innovation Success

Nayal also gives many great examples of how public sector innovations have succeeded and failed. For instance, he discusses Dubai’s Bus Rapid Transit BRT development and how it leads to fewer carbon emissions because the buses operate on soybeans and simultaneously help reduce congestion (Nayal, 2016, 7:58).


The COBRA Effect

When it comes to public sector innovation failures, Nayal talks about the origins of the COBRA Effect (Nayal, 2016, 12:53). The COBRA Effect stemmed from a government campaign to reduce the number of wild Cobras through a public incentive campaign (Nayal, 2016, 12:53). However, Nayal explains it much better, so watch the video if you haven’t already!

Other Roadblocks to Innovation

As we can see from the above examples, there are significant differences between the public and private sectors. However, that is only the beginning.

There are other roadblocks to consider before you hone in and search for local public sector (innovation) opportunities. For example, Eric Holdeman wrote an article on past research regarding innovation roadblocks. For time’s sake, I’ll cut to the chase (in the next paragraph), but here are his five factors (Holdeman, 2015):

Summing Up

Public (and private) sector innovation opportunities exist. However, they are difficult to pinpoint and navigate if you don’t consider your initial approach to some of the key roadblocks. Also, remember that roadblocks change depending on your goal, sector, project, business, web strategy, etc. Moreover, as we can see on Holdeman’s five roadblocks list above, people are the number one barrier to entry in innovation (as also mentioned by Emilia Saarelainen).

And that makes sense!

Who sets the tone, rules, and regulations that lead to entry barriers, other roadblocks, and, ultimately, change aversion? People! At the same time, who creates innovation? You guessed it!


Now that you know some of the roadblocks, how could you use that knowledge to better approach potential barriers to entry when networking/discussing your innovation idea with decision-makers, SMEs, etc.?

In part four, we dive into two popular Process Models. Yay!

Main Sources:

Ghosh, J. (2020, July 1). Innervation to innovation — the lifeblood of human progress. Retrieved from https://medium.com/@itsmejoyghosh/innervation-to-innovation-the-lifeblood-of-human-progress-6d6382d89e27

Holdeman, E. (2015, January 29). 5 roadblocks to innovation. Retrieved from https://www.govtech.com/em/emergency-blogs/disaster-zone/innovationjudo.html

Nayal, M. (2016, September 5). Meirc webinar: 9 principles for building innovation in the public sector. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YvouTR1_cYo

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