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Implementing innovative ideas in a city: good solutions on paper but not in practice?

Sara Brorström (School of Business Economics and Law, Gothenburg Research Institute, Gothenburg, Sweden)

International Journal of Public Sector Management

ISSN: 0951-3558

Article publication date: 13 April 2015




This paper examines innovation implementation in the public sector. The purpose of this paper is to analyse the “black box” of implementation of innovations and then answer questions of hindrances and opportunities when it comes to implementing innovative ideas in the public sector.


The specific context in this case is a city organization that received funding from the Delegation for Sustainable Cities to put six innovative ideas into practice in a city district. The data collection methods consisted of interviews and observations of meetings where the implementation phase was discussed.


The findings imply that innovative ideas that seemed best on paper often proved to be difficult to implement. The possibility of funding, for example, provided a reason to think “outside the box”, but the system for presenting the ideas in order to obtain the funding was time consuming. The resulting delay meant that, by the time the applications were evaluated, the submitted ideas were no longer necessarily the best available. The findings also imply that one important role of public organizations in implementing innovations is to facilitate the response by its users, here the inhabitants.

Research limitations/implications

When discussing innovations and implementation the time aspects is a limitation, the future might imply other effects than the ones visible here.

Practical implications

Public sector managers possibilities of organizing to be more innovative can be discussed. From a management perspective focus might thus be on facilitate the implementation of the innovation, since the demand of the new solutions might be other than expected.

Social implications

The users of public sector innovations, here the inhabitants, might demand other things that expected, which highlights the need of an ongoing dialogue between city managers and inhabitants.


The methodology of following projects in real time proved to be a unique approach for understanding the ”black box” of implementing innovative ideas. The existing paradoxes of managing public sector organizations are thus illustrated.



This paper was supported by Mistra Urban Futures.


Brorström, S. (2015), "Implementing innovative ideas in a city: good solutions on paper but not in practice?", International Journal of Public Sector Management, Vol. 28 No. 3, pp. 166-180.



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Copyright © 2015, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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