Public Servants Can Be Innovative Too!

“What do government workers do? Government is living in the dinosaur ages!”

I am sure many of you can relate to this statement. I for sure have heard it from my clients, colleagues, friends and – of course – the public. I want to challenge this belief that public service is behind in innovation and modernization. I bring forward a new wave of thinking that is –  the public service and its body are intrapreneurs.

Intrapreneurs are individuals breathing, living and advocating for the client; that is the public. Intrapreneurs understand the dilemmas and political acuity public administration practices.

However, intrapreneurs are proactive rather than reactive to both political and public pressures. Public servants are bringing forward ideas to senior management and working with the public to ignite fire and change in how government does business.

This is not a dinosaur type of government. A few examples of how government is changing include:

  1. Digital government: A new government unit committed to improve the online experience for citizens and transform the most important government services.
  1. Behavioral insights unit: Behavioral science research provides insights into how people make decisions and act upon them in actual situations. These insights can help government design and re-design public services that better reflect how people respond to, engage with and use these services.
  1. Innovation hubs: Innovation labs or hubs provide expertise and advice on new and emerging approaches to policy and program challenges. Hubs help departments and agencies to test, document, accelerate, replicate and scale innovation across public service.

In John Elkington’s The Social Intrapreneur: A Field Guide for Corporate Changemakers, intrapreneurs are often seen as “hybrid individuals, who persistently champion a vision of change in the face of frequent cynicism and resistance. They flourish when the organization provides them with an effective base from which to create and leverage innovative societal solutions and understand business process and priorities as well as sustainability imperatives.”

Government will always be managing tight budgets, frustrated citizenry and increased demand for services. So, how can YOU become an intrapreneur?

  1. Be customer/client/user (whatever you want to call it) focused.
  2. Do not be afraid to bring forward an out-of-the-box move away from the three options with a recommended option briefing.
  3. Break the silos of doing business.
  4. Practice, practice, practice collaboration.
  5. Be a leader!

With all of this, intrapreneurs are not afraid to be different. The world is changing and we are changing with it!

Ashley Cabral  is part of the GovLoop Featured Contributor program, where we feature articles by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Contributor posts, click here.

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Larry Till

Hi, Ashley. Innovation can be a tough sell in a risk-averse environment like government. The acknowledgement that it exists is important for all of us to remember.

I especially like the shout-outs to our Ontario government colleagues who share your passion for breaking new ground. Nicely done!


Thank you Larry for your comment. Yes, I agree innovation can be hard in such an environment you mention. It is great to see the dialogue of innovation is here!
Thank you again.


Thanks for sharing these ideas Ashley. It is too bad so many innovative people get painted with such a broad brush because of where they work not actually what they do.