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So What’s New? Innovation versus novelty in human services delivery

11 January 2010




‘Innovation’ has recently become a highly fashionable concept in public sector discourse. Mulgan and Albury (2003) define successful innovation as ‘the creation and implementation of new processes, products, services and methods of delivery which result in significant improvements in outcomes efficiency, effectiveness or quality’ and more simply as ‘new ideas that work’.

‘Public sector novelty’ by contrast, is not nearly so popular a concept. Although they share the same Latin root, the definition of novelty lacks innovation’s sense of valuable newness. It also has the secondary meaning of a small, cheap toy or trinket. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that we find no journals promoting novelty, and no novelty units in Australian government departments. This paper seeks to interrogate the conundrum that, if innovation is what we seek in contemporary public services, why do our budget processes and culture seem more disposed to support novelty at the margins, rather than risky, significant and lasting improvements?

These Occasional Papers are jointly published by ANZSOG and the (former) Victorian State Services Authority.

Suggested citation

Pfeffer, M. (2010). So What’s New? Innovation versus novelty in human services delivery. SSA/ANZSOG Occasional Paper, 6. Melbourne: ANZSOG.


Authors: Monica Pfeffer
Published Date: 11 January 2010

Case study

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