Open Innovation – Public vs Private

by Stefan Lindegaard

Open Innovation : Public vs PrivateWhat are the similarities and differences when it comes to open innovation in the public and private sectors? I have been wondering about this question for a while and as I gather my thoughts, it would be great to hear other perspectives. Here you get my starting views for a good discussion.


• The key issues are the same. Whether you are a public or private organization, you still need to develop a clear vision or strategy for what you want to do with open innovation before you get started.

You also need to understand that what happens behind the scene is what really matters. Idea generating or harvesting portals attract lots of attention, but they are useless if an organization is not capable of dealing with the inflow of ideas and new opportunitities. This requires infrastructure and processes.

The last note on key issues is that it is really about people. You need to develop the right mindset and the proper skillset and toolbox for government people in all positions just as you need to do it with everyone in a private organization.

• The knowledge pool is growing and all kinds of organizations can take advantage of this. There are so many articles and so many conferences on open innovation in the private sector and companies can use this pool of knowledge to analyze how specific initiatives done by others can work in their company. It is about seeing patterns and applying this for innovation initiatives. Having done some research on the public sector, I am surprised by the number of initiatives and how they are being documented. The public sector can benefit from such a knowledge pool as well.

• Everyone benefits from technology developments. There are so many tools and services aiding innovation today. This is actually not just about technology development, but also about behavioural changes on how we apply technology for innovation. I really believe that social media will play a very important role when it comes to making innovation happen and this goes for both the public and private sector. The “winners” will be those organizations that are best at adapting to this development and thus capitalize on these new opportunities.


• The public sector have less innovation experience. Although the knowledge pool is growing, there seems to be a lack of experience on how to innovate in the public sector. The good thing is that the public sector seems to be addressing this issue. No need to say that education will key for this.

• There are more constraints in the public sector. I am primarily thinking about the public scrutiny, which could mean less tolerance among citizens for government experiments. Citizens expect things to work and they might not want to be “guinea pigs” while public organizations climb the necessary learning curve. However, it should be noted that constraints often serve as a good driver for innovation if – and that’s a big if – the leaders of an organization are able to create the right conditions for innovation to happen. Constraints can force people to think differently and more creatively about problems.

• Citizens are different than consumers and customers. Beyond making money on fulfilling their needs, the private sector can view the crowd (customers, consumers) as an asset, which they can use to make innovation happen. If private companies go too far on this – or in general mistreat their customers – customers will just leave. It is a bit more complex for the public organizations as they exist to serve the citizens and thus they cannot push as hard as private companies when it comes to developing new products, services or processes. Citizens cannot just switch to other alternatives, but they will for sure raise their objections in other ways.

I would really appreciate hearing your take on this. Where do you see other similarities and differences on open innovation in the public and private sector?


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Stefan LindegaardStefan Lindegaard is a speaker, network facilitator and strategic advisor who focus on the topics of open innovation, intrapreneurship and how to identify and develop the people who drive innovation.

No comments

  1. thank you for an interesting point of view. I think you are missing the differences that favor the public innovation. An exampel could be the natural interest citizens have in positive chance in the public sector. Very few companies have a vast majortiy of the people caring and debating in which direction to go. It’s a huge privilege of the public sector.

  2. Dear all,
    To add to the topic I would suggest the report: Open Innovation and Public Policy in Europe from ESADE Business school, not only does it discuss the environment for public Open Innovation but it also discuss recommendations for public policies that could, if implemented, improve the climate for open innovation.

    Read the full report here:

    Best regards,

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