December 6, 2011

Innovation for the Public Good: A Case Study of US Education (2011)

By Bellwether

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It is widely acknowledged that innovation will be necessary to dramatically improve public services in America. But innovation in the public sector doesn’t happen in a vacuum; innovation happens at the nexus of policy, research, capital, and practice. This project looks at one case study – education – by analyzing some of the key aspects of an emerging ecosystem for innovation in public education in the US, including the flow of investment capital for such efforts, the uptake of innovations by buyers and users, federal efforts to stimulate and scale innovation, and ways that technology could facilitate innovation investment and practice. Drawing on surveys, interviews, and working groups, the project highlights recent efforts to fuel and steer more innovation, and frames the remaining challenges that lie ahead for the public, private, and philanthropic sectors. This project culminates in an analysis of the lessons and insights drawn from the recent experience of US public education in comparison to the way leaders are using innovation to address similar intractable social problems in other fields and in other countries.


Innovation in the Public Sector
Weekly column on government innovation produced by the Doing What Works team at the Center on American Progress (CAP), in partnership with the Bellwether Education Partners and the Young Foundation.

What does innovation in the public sector actually mean? Who is doing it well? And what should agency leaders do to promote innovation? This series of columns explores why innovation is so hard in the public sector, connecting many of the elements underpinning the education innovation ecosystem with those addressing other social issues. We will identify the key ingredients necessary for a strong system of innovation to emerge in the public sector, offer concrete examples of where each is being done well in the United States and internationally, and include practical advice for agency leaders who want to promote innovation. (Fall 2011)

9/21/11: Series Introduction: The Need for Innovation in the Public Sector

9/28/11: The Barriers to Innovation: Four Key Obstacles to Innovative Solutions of Pressing Social Problems

10/5/11: The Five Keys to Innovation: Five Key Elements to Promoting an Innovation Culture in Government

10/12/11: The Importance of Leadership in Social Innovation: Leadership Is the First Key to Unlocking an Innovation Culture in Government

10/19/11: Financing Tools for Social Innovation: Three Financing Principles to Guide Social Innovation

10/25/11: An Open Agency Culture is Key to Innovation: Four Kinds of Permeability Are Important to Fostering Innovation

11/2/11: Incentives and Responsiveness Two Specific Ways to Better Align the Incentives for Innovation in Government

11/9/11: Developing a Plan to Change Agency Culture: Planning Is the Fifth and Final Ingredient to Promoting a Culture of Innovation in Government Agencies

11/16/11: Taking the First Steps to Build an Innovation Culture: Four Initial Steps Federal Agencies Should Take to Promote Innovation

11/30/11: A Diagnostic Tool to Help You Innovate: Want to Innovate but Don’t Know Where to Start?


In Encouraging Social Innovation Through Capital: Using Technology to Address Barriers, co-authors Bryan Hassel, Julie Petersen, and Kim Smith investigate how technology can optimize educational capital – from the private, philanthropic, and public sectors – in order to better identify and support innovations that help achieve the public good of improving students’ outcomes and educational productivity. Throughout society, technology has demonstrated a capacity for: connecting people and organizations; facilitating communication; capturing, analyzing, and presenting rich data and information; and shaping human behavior in response to these connections and insights. This paper examines how we might marry these technology strengths with specific gaps in the education market, including identifying and screening high-potential ventures, connecting donors with investors to syndicate and sequence their capital, and simplifying the funding (and fundraising) process. Through an in-depth examination of investing and giving tools and platforms, and interviews with more than two dozen stakeholders, the authors identify how we can best leverage technology to address these challenges and recommend specific ways to strengthen content, connect technology efforts with existing face-to-face networks, and streamline transactions. Such efforts would support a more rational, evidence-based culture in public education that can attract more capital, steer it toward the best ideas and approaches, and ultimately improve student achievement and school productivity. (November 2011)

In Pull and Push: Strengthening Demand for Innovation in Education, co-authors Kim Smith and Julie Petersen examine one of the chief reasons for the painfully slow pace of innovation in education: the insufficient and often unpredictable uptake of innovations by schools, districts, and other public education buyers. This paper explores the disconnect between the supply of educational innovation — the focus of other papers to date in this series — and the actual demand for innovation among educator and student users, school and district buyers, policymakers, and others who provide funding for educational goods and services. Strengthening, sharpening and “smartening” the way these buyers and users find and implement innovation can make a big difference in bringing more productive, effective teaching and learning approaches to the kids and schools that need it. The paper highlights barriers that inhibit the number and power of early adopters and that limit the spread of innovations, and identifies ways to strengthen the demand for improved innovation and productivity in public education. (September 2011)

In Supporting and Scaling Change: Lessons from the First Round of the Investing in Innovation (i3) Program, authors Kim Smith and Julie Petersen assess the initial effect of the first round of the U.S. Department of Education’s Investing in Innovation (i3) initiative on specific elements of the innovation ecosystem in education, including innovators, philanthropic donors, and the federal education agency itself. First established as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (otherwise known as the “stimulus” legislation), and now continued as a regular Department program in the fiscal 2012 year, i3 was intended to shift the innovation ecosystem toward greater quantity, rigor and diffusion of innovation, to thread innovation into the way the Department itself works (including the use of a “field scan” mechanism) and to align funding for the “supply” of innovation with the “demand” the U.S. Department of Education had created through other federal programs. Finally, as a public-private partnership, the i3 program explicitly sought to create greater alignment among innovation investments in the public, private and philanthropic sectors, and to improve the quality and sustainability of these efforts. While it’s too soon to assess the ultimate impact of i3 (whether student achievement will rise as a result of more and better innovation), this paper offers some early perspective about the program’s initial effects on the ecosystem from the vantage point of its key stakeholders, including i3 grantees, i3 applicants not selected for funding, and donors tapped to provide matching funds. (July 2011)

In Steering Capital: Optimizing Financial Support for Innovation in Public Education, authors Kim Smith and Julie Petersen chart a path forward for how the public, private and nonprofit sectors can work together to advance education innovation. Though there is broad consensus on the need for significant innovation at scale, our educational ecosystem is not set up to deliver on that promise. This paper examines the factors that have inhibited the nonprofit and for-profit capital markets and the public sector from effectively supporting the entire cycle of innovation, from research to invention to scale. Through an analysis of the five necessary elements of an effective capital market, Steering Capital offers concrete recommendations for how public, private and philanthropic capital can better support innovators and innovation in a way that delivers on the ambitious promise we make to public school students: that our schools will prepare them all for success in college, careers and life. (April 2011)

This project is funded by The Rockefeller Foundation. The views and analysis are the responsibility of the report authors alone.

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