Is there an effective methodology to support innovation in and through the public sector?

In the modern troubled times, where the crisis but also opportunities for innovation co-exist, the public sector must not only react to the crisis, but also pro-actively solve problems and seek new opportunities for value creation. As a consequence, its role is changing from what is known so far, to one that must also embrace a strategic and systematic effort to innovate. In fact, in addition to the public sector’s role in catalysing innovation in the wider economy, there is an urgent need to power innovation within the public sector itself in order to achieve productivity and efficiency gains, foster the creation of public value and better respond to societal challenges.

The SONNETS Innovation Identification Framework , a key outcome of the SONNETS project ( is an innovative methodological framework that will accelerate the transformation of the public sector into an innovation breeding carrier. The goal of the SONNETS Framework is twofold and lies insupporting innovation both in the public sector – with either internal or external focus, targeting the former’s modernization , and through the public sector with a focus on other policy domains, pursuing its transformation into an innovation driver.

The Framework emphasizes the role of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) as a key enabler for innovation and pursues its goal by means of coupling findings on emerging ICTs and trends with insights on current societal challenges and needs.

Our intention, by means of the framework application, is to highlight the gaps between the identified societal and public sector needs and the identified technological opportunities. Hence, the “SONNETS Innovation Identification Framework for the Public Sector” consists of seven main steps:

The SONNETS Innovation Identification Framework is guiding the innovation identification activities within the SONNETS work-plan, but can also be used as a self-standing innovationframework for the public sector. For further details on this ambitious framework, click here:

(360.82 KB - PDF)
ICT innovation public sector SONNETS modernization framework csa


Curtha isteach ag Yannis Charalabidis an Tue, 25/04/2017 - 22:59

I have been following the results and deliberations of SONNETS during the last months and I am quite impressed by the systematic nature of the approach, which bears some unique characteristics for researchers and practitioners:

- A rigid framework relating societal needs, technological advances and public sector innovation
- A solid depiction of emerging technologies and their suitability for the public sector
- Incorporation of different viewpoints, coming from the public sector, industry and research

If I was asked about next steps in this approach, in order to further exploit the strong elements of SONNETS, I would say:

- Try to find a way for assessing, by calculation or systematic evaluation by key experts, the possible impact of each innovation for the administration, the citizens and the businesses. Any quantification would be a big step forward here.

- The applicability of the framework in different organisations (sizes, geographies, sectors, levels of administration, etc) might be asking for some guidelines, per type of organisation

In overall SONNETS can be the start of a decisive step forward for European Policy in digital governance, in the field of innovation management.

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Curtha isteach ag Francesco Molinari an Thu, 27/04/2017 - 15:04

Indeed, there are several domains where public administration is deeply involved (just think of pre-commercial public procurement, or more generally, demand side innovation policies) and a framework like this can prove very useful. Not only as a holistic, systematic approach - with all the advantages higlighted by Yannis Charalabidis in his post - but also through its individual methodological components, which might/could/should be made available independently of each other, to become parts of the policy (learning and implementation) toolbox of public sector innovators.
However, I see a number of obstacles ahead, preventing or slowing down the adoption of this framework, which might be turned into opportunities for a "second and extended edition" of the SONNETS project:
1.- there is a need to clarify the points of convergence and/or distinction of this with other similar frameworks (e.g.…) or methodologies (e.g. UNIDO, International Practice in Technology Foresight, ISBN 9211064236, 9789211064230)
2.- can we think of a standardisation approach? compare e.g.…
3.- what is our target audience? there are many layers of public administration (structured by competencies, and with a strong influence of the constitutional setup, so widely varying across countries) and within each layer, many organisations (public bodies, agencies and even companies) and within each of them, many managerial structures. Can we identify an ideal type (in Weberian sense) of civil servant or policy maker who could take most benefit from these research endeavours, and ask ourselves why and how?
4.- more generally, how can this framework be communicated? Not to forget language and cultural differences, alongside competencies related and other constitutional/organisational context factors as mentioned above
5.- even more generally, how can this framework be (experimentally) implemented? Not necessarily via a concrete (and real, or realistic) pilot, but even at the lower level of a (well justified) proof of concept.
There are so many domains invoking more "smartness" in government, it would be great if we could use this approach to demonstrate that "there is method in this smartness", or if you prefer so, that "there is smartness in this method".

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Curtha isteach ag Giorgio Da Bormida an Tue, 16/05/2017 - 15:53

My overall impression is that SONNETS’ Innovation Framework has been conceived in a way really able to drive innovation capacity and impact creation within, towards and through the Public Sector. It allows the generation and sharing of innovative ideas: i) findings on emerging ICTs and trends are coupled with consideration of current societal challenges and expectations ; ii) information is sourced from within and across several domains; iii) the relevant meaning for the exploitation of innovation potential is extracted from the information concerned, whilst multiplying it by sharing such a knowledge.

In my view, greater attention should be paid as regards some potential barriers and potential risks to the transformation of the public sector into an innovation breeding environment, in order to tackle them, build and implement mitigation actions and specific countermeasures.

For instance, as regards the innovation in the public sector, it should be considered the possible staff’s resistance to change, that could prevent public sector’s institutions and organisation from effectively conceiving, implementing and benefiting from new ways to fulfil their public mission.

It is therefore essential an increased effort for developing civil servants’ better understanding and recognition of how innovation and technological progress can increase the successful and timely addressing the challenges that the public sector faces today. It should be also recommended to couple the introduction of the innovations with a review of the public sector’s internal organisational design, as the way work is structured within and across organisations is able to facilitate the impact of innovation within the public sector, fostering an increased efficiency and the development of improved services for citizens and businesses, but also also through the public sector, according to SONNETS’ vision of transformation of the public sector into an innovation driver. In this perspective, useful directions could be the definition innovative methods for structuring the teams, as well as breaking down silos and working in collaboration across organisations and different sectors.

Another key point is that innovation has to be realized in the context of existing rules, processes and procedures, including the legal and regulatory framework, budgeting processes and regulations and approval processes. The new ideas, processes, institutional arrangements, policies and related tools and technologies need to consider such existing framework (and the opportunities it offers to innovate or to block the innovation process) in order to effect positive change and thus create public value.

SONNETS’ methodological concept is remarkable because it allows to adequately tackle complexity, intrinsic also in the nature of the challenges that the public sector is facing with: they are increasingly complex and cross-boundary, mirrored by communities and societies that are more and more pluralistic and interconnected.

SONNETS approach allows to avoid, or at least reduce, the risk of social inequality. In fact, it underlines the importance of an informed insight of the current societal trends and challenges as a prerequisite for better accommodating the respective needs, and pursues its goal by coupling such trends and challenges with those on emerging ICTs and trends.

The method fostered by SONNETS is able to strengthen the implementation of the innovation into the public sector, shifting from idea to uptake. In fact, it, thorough the six encompassed logical steps or phases, allow to overcome the key obstacles to the uptake of innovation in the public sector, like pressure of uniformity in public services, pressure for immediate response to everyday crises, civil servants’ reliance on command and control mechanisms, the vertical silos’ supremacy, making end-user performance secondary to other considerations.

Unlike traditional approaches, characterized by the lack of evaluation of the impact of practices and policies, SONNETS Innovation Framework includes a set of impact assessment criteria and feasibility assessment criteria for evaluating the innovation potential of each of the considered solutions. It is worthy that, on the basis of the rating of such innovative solutions against both of these criteria, a prioritization can be originated, as well as a roadmap and concrete timeplan of implementation, so that to realize first the solutions holding greater value for the public sector.

I suggest to further emphasize into the image modernisation the aspect of users’ empowerment and users’ perception, as well as the role of SONNET framework in strongly contributing to empower both the Public Sector’s human resources and the related stakeholders, by means of appropriate levers.

As regards the last step of the proposed framework methodology, targeting the validation of the overall findings, I recommend to consider that the desired feedback gathering through specialized workshops could be affected by both the tradition of secrecy and the possible resistance and protection of vested interests by some professional and intermediary bodies. This is particularly likely as regards the opinions to be collected by representatives of public authorities and civil society organizations.

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Curtha isteach ag filippo addarii an Wed, 21/06/2017 - 18:59

Innovation to happen requires a culture open to it. It starts with education and then followed by training and practice to foster inquisitive minds, critical thinking, entrepreneurial spirit, ability to collaborate, appetite for risk, passion for trail and error, resilience in case of failure and crisis.

These are just some of the skills - both innate and nurtured - that are common in society to solve the daily challenges people face. Newer generations display them in great abundance as they have been facing increasing uncertainty over the last 10 years.

Is this the case for the public sector? My general experience tells me the opposite although there are exceptions. Any plan to foster innovation in the public sector has to include massive training for the people working in it and a radical change of organisational culture. All those skills that create an enabling environment for innovation are often stigmatized, suppressed or, at least, disincentivised in the public sector. it's time to bring intrapreneurship in the public sector and reward staff who take the risk to improve the lives of millions of people who need their help.

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Curtha isteach ag Mathew Lowry an Tue, 22/08/2017 - 17:32

Amused to see that this post, and the first 5 comments, are from people funded by the project (, who collectively are "quite impressed" and find the project "remarkable" and "very useful", although requiring "a second and extended edition" of the SONNETS project". Can anyone spell "astroturfing"?

Apart from this 1-page Framework, I see a dozen 2-page reports and some animated gifs on the website. Anything else from this half-million euro project?


In reply to by Mathew Lowry

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Curtha isteach ag Nuria Rodriguez an Mon, 04/09/2017 - 10:58

Dear Mathew,

We are really sorry to read your impressions but please, let us invite you to participate in our webinar that will be held on the 14th of September to learn more about SONNETS. We hope that this webinar can help you to better understand our project.

Kind regards,


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Curtha isteach ag Andrea ERDEI an Wed, 13/09/2017 - 14:37

Sounds cool. What does it do? Is this a software solution? How does this accelerates transformation of a full public administration? Who needs to apply the methodology? Whole organizations? Smaller units? It would be worth discussing how this works and what examples there are for its impactful use in real life. Please share more. 

In reply to by Andrea ERDEI

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Curtha isteach ag Nuria Rodriguez an Wed, 13/09/2017 - 15:27

Dear Andrea,

This a methodological framework that aims at providing the public sector stakeholders (either civil servants, researchers, policy makers...) with the right tools to modernize the public sector. It provides clear guidance on the steps to follow: from analysing the needs of the public sector and society and assessing the technological scenario to mapping these needs with the right technological solutions. It can be used by smaller and bigger units in different policy domains (health, education, etc). Indeed we have implemented this framework to develop some research directions.

Tomorrow at 11.00 CET, a webinar is scheduled to inform about our project results and give more details on these outcomes. Please, we invite you to join us and learn more about SONNETS. It is a good chance for a fruitful discussion! Please, see below the details of the webinar (agenda, connection link).

Thanks a lot for your interest!

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