Launch of the 2019 edition of the “Embracing Innovation in Government” report


Remarks by Angel Gurría

OECD Secretary-General

Dubai, UAE - Monday 11 February 2019

(As prepared for delivery)


Dear Excellencies, Ministers, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am delighted to launch the 2019 edition of the “Embracing Innovation in Government Report”. Let me start by thanking the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for hosting us at the World Government Summit, which has become a key global platform to discuss how innovation can help governments and societies best adapt to increasingly challenging realities, in a rapidly changing world.

I also want to highlight the role of the OECD Observatory for Public Sector Innovation, which has been working in close partnership with the United Arab Emirates Mohammed Bin Rashid Centre for Government Innovation to conduct this annual review of innovation in government and help policymakers understand, test and embed new ways of doing things. 

Innovation in government has become essential

Governments must be reminding themselves a lot about Bob Dylan these days, for this time it is globally true: “Times, they are a’changing”. And they are changing at impressive speed. Think about it, the world is in the midst of an unprecedented technological revolution that is transforming our societies, our economies, and our governments, in complex and unpredictable ways. This process is changing how people live, interact and work. This inevitably affects their relationship with their governments and requires a transformation in the design and delivery of public policies and services. Governments cannot fall behind.

Innovation in government is a risky business. For any new government, the safest and easiest option is often to continue with the same procedures, institutions, policies and practices that have been there for years, sometimes decades; the so-called “business as usual” policy.

But our realities are changing so fast that they need to adapt fast. There are no clear-cut roadmaps or even reliable precedents to guide policy action. And yet, our analysis shows that governments are stepping up and taking risks to experiment with bold, creative ideas and solutions. This is great! By forging new paths, the most innovative governments create approaches from which others can learn, adapting new ideas and models to their own unique national contexts. The OECD helps governments share these innovations. It is a fascinating experience.

Embracing Innovation in Government: Global Trends 2019

The report that we are presenting today, “Embracing Innovation in Government: Global Trends 2019”, draws on 542 innovation practices and methods from 84 different countries. Let me highlight three key trends that stand out from this analysis:

  • First, governments are leveraging new methods to transform the invisible into the visible. This allows them to understand new perspectives and possibilities that were previously hidden. For instance, the public engagement platform “Carrot Rewards” in Canada, combines gamification – applying game elements such as point scoring to other areas – and behavioural insights to not only help governments understand the perspectives of their constituents, but also to nudge them to make better  decisions for healthy living and environmental sustainability.
  • Second, governments are opening doors to new economic services and opportunities for the public. Indonesia, for example, launched a new initiative that allows residents to pay for transportation fare with recyclable bottles. Not only is this great news for the environment, but it also has an important social and economic value as it provides transportation to those with less financial means.
  • Third, we are seeing the emergence of a machine-readable world, allowing us to re-imagine foundational government practices and fuelling the next generation of innovation. Mongolia’s initiative to combat counterfeit medicines, which constitute up to 40% of all drugs sold in the country, is a good example: they designed a drug tracking system using blockchain and artificial intelligence to catch and eliminate fake drugs before they reach consumers.

Moreover, the report highlights numerous ways by which governments can change their approach and operating environments in order to reap the benefits of public sector innovation. Let me give you a few examples:

  • Governments need to acknowledge that innovation is the responsibility of every civil servant. This does not mean turning all employees into data analysts or coders, but it means recognising that everyone plays a role in it, whether it’s being a participant, recipient or supporter.
  • This implies equipping civil servants with the necessary skills, capabilities and structures to innovate.
  • Governments also need to cultivate new partnerships and engage with diverse voices, as innovations results from the collision of different ideas and experiences.
  • Finally, they need to generate multiple options and make better use of evidence to guide decision-making, as innovation is fundamentally about learning from experience.

This is just a small taste of a much broader and richer set of experiences and best practices. Throughout the report, you will also find other useful cases on topics like the sharing economy for government spaces; improving access to justice; addressing the issue of transportation as a barrier to stable employment; and machine learning for land-mapping. We very much hope you will find them inspiring.


Ladies and gentlemen,

In this digital era, innovation in government is essential to improve governance, public services, institutions; it is fundamental to win back the trust of our people, precisely at a time when governments are facing a major crisis of public trust. Public policy is a lot about promoting innovation. But as the American innovation author Steven Johnson once noted: “Innovation doesn't come just from giving people incentives; it comes from creating environments where their ideas can connect”. This is what we are trying to do here.

And this is why the report we are launching today is important: we need to show innovators worldwide what tomorrow could be like; we need to encourage policymakers to take risks; we need to help governments turn great ideas into effective policies; we need to support them to learn from each other; to inspire each other.

Count on the OECD to help you design, develop and deliver better public sector innovation for better lives. Thank you.


See more on:

The OECD Observatory for Public Sector Innovation 


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