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Innovation Scouts in the Public Sector

Innovation scouts in the private sector are responsible for discovering innovations that can be adapted, adopted, or replicated within their organization. But the approach can also be transferred to the public sector.

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Innovation scouts in the private sector are responsible for discovering innovations that can be adapted, adopted, or replicated within their organization. Small and medium firms in northern Italy, such as the Emilia Romagna clothing producers in Carpi, form consortia to fund scouts of this kind. The scouts travel to international trade fairs and conferences to identify the latest technologies, and then report back through the region’s Centres for Real Services.

Many Japanese companies use a similar approach when thinking of ideas for new products, as do U.S. firms such as Proctor and Gamble. But the approach can also be transferred to the public sector. The Young Foundation in the United Kingdom has employed an experienced investigative journalist to play a similar role in health care, scanning for promising new projects and looking in detail at which elements could be adapted or replicated. This information is then provided to practitioners in the field—and also helps innovation teams spot major gaps. Unlike the private sector, where technology is protected by intellectual property, agencies in the public sector can work much more openly together toward solutions. Looking at what others are doing and “stealing with pride” from others should be part of that effort—scouting for ideas at state level, from other agencies that face similar challenges, or from those in other countries can all help to generate great ideas.

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