INITIAL SCAN OF THE
ISRAELI PUBLIC SECTOR
This report and its findings was developed by
the OECD’s Observatory of Public Sector
Innovation (OPSI) as an outcome from a
fact-finding mission from March 11-13th,
2019. The mission was coordinated and
sponsored by the Elka Partnership – A
Partnership between 7 Israeli ministries
(Prime Minister Office; Ministry of Finance;
Ministry of Health, Ministry for Social
Equality; Ministry of Interior; Ministry of
Labor, Social Affairs and Social Services;
Ministry of Education) and The Elka Institute
for Leadership and Governance, JDC Israel.
*The statistical data for Israel are supplied by and under the responsibility of the relevant Israeli authorities. The use of such data by the OECD is without prejudice to the status
of the Golan Heights, East Jerusalem and Israeli settlements in the West Bank under the terms of international law.
Exploratory Scan of the Israeli public sector innovation
As societal challenges become more complex and interconnected, the speed of change accelerates,
and new futures and possibilities become harder to predict, the need for the public sector to rely on
innovation becomes more critical. As trust in governments is decreasing across the world, the
public sector needs to look to new models, approaches, and tools that can help government better
respond to the challenges of today and the future. Governments are already innovative in some
capacity, but often not at the level needed to respond to the challenges of today and the future.
Israel is long recognised as an innovative nation. Its private sector is considered one of the most
innovative in the world, and the public sector has played a key role in developing and nurturing the
innovation ecosystem. While innovation is still occurring in the public sector today, it often seems
lacking in ambition and missing a systemic approach – instead relying on bespoke activities that
rarely connect to Israel’s complex, societal challenges. As Israel looks at inequality, population
growth, and other challenges, they will all have unexpected and dramatic effects on the system.
While the specific effects of the ever-changing realities in Israel is unknown, the public sector must
start to reflect on its own preparedness and ability to respond to the challenges. The public sector
needs to look at the collective innovation system to ensure that the public sector is able to properly
face the unknown and unpredictable. Israel’s public sector already has some advantages in its
system. Its budgeting system and its engagement with civil society organisations like JDC Israel
create interesting possibilities to try new things. However, it seems Israel is lacking the mindsets
and mechanisms for the public sector to deal with horizontal challenges and also lacks a systemic
approach to ensure that civil servants across the public sector understand what innovation is, how
to engage with it, and their role within the innovation system.
This commentary is authored by the OECD’s Observatory of Public Sector Innovation (OPSI) and
seeks to provide an initial analysis of the public sector innovation system in Israel. The report was
developed in partnerships with The Elka Institute for Leadership and Governance at JDC Israel.
This document provides an overview of OPSI’s latest thinking of public sector innovation and
using OPSI’s public sector innovation system model to provide initial observations and questions
for further research regarding Israel’s public sector innovation system. Lastly, this piece charts a
path forward for further work and collaboration between OPSI and Israel to support Israel and its
public sector innovation ambitions.
OECD’s Observatory of Public Sector Innovation (OPSI) collaborated with The Elka Institute for
Leadership and Governance at JDC Israel to produce an initial exploratory scan of Israel’s public
sector innovation system. The JDC institute views the subject of innovation in the public sector as
a systemic challenge and, as such, is now working on promoting solutions that will better it.
The observations outlined here are based on an intensive three-day mission focused on innovation
within the social sector that included interviews with the public, private and third sector. This
document is not meant to be conclusive or comprehensive, nor does it represent a formal
assessment of the status of public sector innovation within the Israeli government. It is intended to
provide an initial understanding of the key issues related to the use of public sector innovation in
Israel, and to identify questions and areas of further exploration.
Israel is known as the “start-up nation” that is innovative, agile, inventive, and creative. While the
perception is that Israel’s private sector drives the country’s high level of innovation, it is actually
the public sector which created the foundation for much of the ecosystem today1
. However, despite
a history of public support to innovation, interviews revealed a perception from public servants of
limited degree of innovation within the public sector of today. The differences between how the
private and public sector are perceived in terms of innovation capacity creates a strong contrast
that affects both societal trust and internal morale. That is not to say that innovation is not currently
occurring in the public sector, but that the ambition and pervasiveness of innovation in the public
sector does not seem to be at the level that society and the public service expect.
Why is innovation needed?
The world is in the midst of an unprecedented technological revolution that is transforming
economies, governments and societies in complex and unpredictable ways. For instance, digital
transformation, automation and exponential technological shifts are taking place, with hard-topredict impacts on industry, productivity, housing, jobs and wellbeing. Policy issues are
increasingly interconnected, requiring sophisticated joined-up responses from governments. In this
context, governments must innovate if they are to remain effective.
Specifically, Israel is facing complex social issues where new approaches are sought or required.
Israel is facing a unique and dramatic shift in the growth and distribution of different population
groups in the territory (e.g. Ultra-Orthodox and Arab)2
Projections of population distribution for Israel, 2009-59
These issues directly affect the economy, labour market and social programmes. In the November
2017 OECD Better life initiative “How’s Life in Israel?” Israel was in the bottom third of OECD
countries for household income equality3
and the 2019 Labour Market Report 4by the Israeli
Ministry of Labour, Welfare and Social Affairs also highlights the low employment percentages
and high wage gaps for ultra-Orthodox men and Arab women compared to the rest of the
population. This population shift can put further strain on a society that is already facing high wage
inequality and large amounts of low-income workers.
Israel has many low-income workers and a high level of wage inequality
From OECD’s discussions with the Ministry of Finance and the National Economic Council, Israel
is also dealing with increasing population density and lower productivity outside of the high tech
. These are just some of the current and future issues that could help shape and transform
Israel in complex and unpredictable ways.
5 From OECD interviews during mission
OPSI defines innovation as having three characteristics:
It is novel to the context
It involves implementation rather than just invention
It leads to impact.
Governments around the world are already innovating, however they are increasingly recognising
that they can, and need to, go even further in using innovation to get better outcomes. Yet
innovation, as both a process and act of ‘going against the status quo’, is fundamentally
challenging. Dedication to innovation is crucial for strengthening government capacity to respond
to current and possible future challenges for the benefit of the people they serve.
Innovation is important for the public sector for a number of reasons. Finding and learning about
new ways of doing things can help the public sector:
i. Deliver on political commitments and promises, realising new means to achieve public
ends (such as the Sustainable Development Goals)
ii. Improve the efficiency of government and its operations and services
iii. Improve service delivery and achieve higher quality results and outcomes for citizens and
iv. Build more effective, reflective and proactive institutions and public sector organisations
that are suited to a changing environment and evolving and emerging needs.
In short, innovation is an important (but not the only) mechanism by which the public sector can
do better for people. At the same time, while innovation can help the public sector achieve and
realise significant benefits, it is not an automatic good.
Why a systemic approach is needed
As the world changes faster and faster, innovation becomes more and more important. The
operating context and the needs of citizens are changing more often, in more ways and to a greater
extent, meaning that innovation is becoming ever more relevant and essential. The past tendency
of the public sector has been to rely upon innovation as a by-product of other processes, rather than
putting specific focus upon it. This is increasingly untenable. If the world is continually changing,
then the public sector needs innovation to be a deliberate, continual, consistent and reliable
resource, rather than the ad hoc, reactive, opportunistic or serendipitous process it has often been.
Such a shift demands a systemic approach to public sector innovation.
However, in order to take a deliberate approach, it is first necessary to identify and make explicit
the public sector innovation system - the actors, assets, relationships and flows of information,
technology and resources that influence or determine the ability for innovation to be generated
within the public sector. It is difficult to improve something that remains ambiguous, undescribed
or that is not apparent. Only once the system and its dynamics are understood and appreciated, does
a strategic approach become possible. Until then, innovation will remain governed and shaped by
factors unknown, and thus stay as something seemingly random or unmanageable.
A deliberate approach must also be a pervasive and ubiquitous one. No area of government is
immune from the need to ask whether they are still doing what is best; nor can any area be immune
from the need to explore innovative options in case they might be better than the current ones. And
if the need for innovation may strike anywhere, and if no area is immune from having to ask itself
whether new options might be better, then individuals and organisations everywhere must have
some capacity and readiness for innovation. A deliberate approach should also have regard to the
ecosystem in which it takes place: the actors and the organisations within or connected to the public
sector innovation system, and how they may contribute to generating and implementing innovative
In short, there is a need for explicit attention to national public sector innovation systems and their
functioning – i.e. the ability of a country to consistently and reliably develop and deliver innovative
solutions that contribute to achieving the goals and priorities of the government and the citizenry.
In its inaugural public sector innovation system study looking at the Public Service of Canada6 in
2018, the OECD introduced a new model for understanding the underlying determinants of
innovation. This ‘determinants model’ provides a framework for understanding the forces that
shape whether and to what extent innovation occurs, and in turn, how those forces may be
influenced. The model thus contributes to working towards a public sector innovation system that
can consistently and reliably develop and deliver innovative solutions that contribute to the
achievement of the goals and priorities of the government and the citizenry.
The determinants model distinguishes between innovation activity at three different levels.
The individual: individuals, on their own or with others can undertake innovation activity.
Often individuals will be better attuned to when there are changes in the environment or
new possibilities or issues arising where innovation may be needed, being better able to
shift their perspectives than organisations. Such innovation will often be focused on
The organisational: organisations will often have a range of innovative initiatives going
on at the same time. Organisations can marshal resources and coordinate efforts in ways
that individuals rarely can, and are generally built around specific purposes such as health
The system: the public sector as a whole involves multiple government agencies,
interactions with citizens and businesses. Innovation at this level relates to how collective
aims and needs can be met by ensuring a diversity of activity involving
The value of these three differing levels of consideration is in helping consider how innovation as
a process and activity plays out differently depending on the scale at which it occurs. Innovation
carried out by a single person is very different to a whole-of-country level. Each needs to be
supported, encouraged and enabled in different ways.
However, if the innovation system is not explicit, then the focus of innovation will shift to the
organisation. i.e. the innovation that occurs will be driven by particular organisations, either in
reaction to crises or as a means of pursuing particular organisational priorities. Yet if this occurs,
the innovation is going to be shaped by a siloed perspective, rather than with attention to more
collective aims or needs. In the cases where there is not even a deliberate approach to innovation
by organisations, then the focus of innovation activity will fall to the individual.
The determinants model also outlines four core determinants of innovation:
Reason: innovation acts against the status quo and incumbent options, which are usually
well entrenched or established. Therefore, there needs to be a reason for innovation to
occur, whether it be a specific problem, a crisis, a disruption, or a change in context. At
the system level, this manifests as a need for clarity about what innovation is, why it
matters, and how it relates to other priorities.
Possibility: just because there is a reason for innovation to happen, this does not mean
that it will actually be possible, as the existing practices and interventions have a degree
of inertia from already being in place, and are thus hard to shift. Therefore, there needs
to be the possibility for innovation to occur, whether it be from new resources being made
available, the removal of resources making the existing option unfeasible, or because
there has been a political commitment that something new will be tried. At the system
level, this manifests in terms of whether there is parity between innovative options and
existing, traditional, well-understood options when it comes to decision-making.
Capability: even if there is the possibility of innovation happening, this does not mean
the capability to actually undertake it will exist or be available, as innovation involves
doing something new or doing something differently. Therefore, there needs to be the
capability for innovation, whether it be the technological options, the necessary expertise
or skills, the processes and structures necessary to enable or support it, or the relevant
systems and infrastructure. At the system level, this manifests itself as a question of
suitability for taking up the new options that may arise.
Experience: while there might exist the capability for innovation, this does not mean that
it will automatically succeed or become embedded into, or integrated with, other
programmes, policies and processes. There needs to be some form of reinforcement or
payoff. Therefore, a positive experience of innovation helps reinforce innovation,
whether that experience be the introduction of feedback loops that help a relevant
innovation improve, the getting of insight into how to improve an innovation, or progress
in scaling an innovation. At the system level, this manifests itself as normality – whether
innovation is seen as linked to normal business, or whether it is seen as a frolic or
Innovation is already happening
Today, Israel is nicknamed the “startup nation” with a strong innovation ecosystem. According to
the OECD’s 2018 Economic Snapshot of Israel7
, the high-tech sector employees 12% of the
business sector, more than double the OECD-country median. It is makes up 11.4% of GDP. The
success of innovation has been supported by R&D spending at 4.1% of GDP – the second highest
in the OECD. Additionally, Israel’s The Ministry of Finance highlights that the VC investment per
capita is highest in the world with over 6,500 innovative companies8
. The World Economic
Forum’s 2018 Global Competitiveness Report ranks Israel 16 out of 140 in Innovation Capability9
Overall, innovation is considered a core competency of Israel.
While Israel’s present-day innovation culture is often discussed in terms of the private sector, its
foundation is steeped in public sector innovation. Israel has dealt, and continues to deal, with high
uncertainty and constant change. In its relatively short history, Israel has not only had to quickly
develop as a country, but adapt and react to challenges like mass immigration, and the everchanging geopolitical context.
In fact, much of the innovation in Israel’s private sector is due to the contributions of the public
sector. Whether through elite military units that train innovators during military service or the
history of innovation funds for start-ups through the Office of the Chief Scientist (now known as
the Israel Innovation Authority), Israel’s public sector has been recognised as a breeding ground
for innovation10. Within the public sector, innovation may not be occurring at the levels necessary
or expected, but examples did present themselves during mission interviews. These examples were
diverse, but reflected a system where innovation activity was primarily focused at the
organisational and individual level, with few systemic approaches:
Enhancing social development in East Jerusalem – Many interviews cited the
government’s first large-scale grant to support East Jerusalem with an over €500 million
investment. This fund is seeing stronger collaboration between the Municipality of
Jerusalem, the national government, the private sector, and the third sector. While a fund
does not necessarily imply innovation, it is the first time such a mechanism was used in
East Jerusalem and has the potential to lead to even more innovation to improve the
quality of life in East Jerusalem.
Development and testing of innovative social programs by the Joint Distribution
Committee – These programmes are created through a partnership between government
and the JDC and use a design methodology (called “DNA”) to test and design new social
Using innovation to develop a cross-cutting approach to health – Overall, the Health
Ministry seemed to be actively promoting and seeking innovation from all levels of the
organisation. Taking a holistic approach to “health” is opening doors to explore new
Improving access to social benefits in B’nai Brach, the largest ultra-orthodox community
in Israel – The local government of B’nai Brach faces a difficult task of supporting a
community that lacks digital interest in a country where digital is a defining characteristic.
8 From OECD interviews during mission
The government is bringing new solutions to the community to ensure its members
receive the proper social services and benefits.
Increasing citizen-centricity through approachable language – Kol Zchut is a non-profit
website that attempts to simplify and clearly explain the necessary process, rules, and
laws around the most common life events in Israel. Various government agencies started
to realise the popularity of the website and started to engage with Kol Zchut to ensure
their information was accurate and updated. Two years ago, they signed formal
partnerships with the Justice Ministry, Social Equality Ministry, and Joint Distribution
Committee. Now, governments encourage citizens to check the website for the most
updated and accurate information.
Potential gaps in the innovation system
While innovation is clearly occurring in the Israeli public sector, interviews conducted by
the OPSI team indicated that the level of innovation seems unlikely to be sufficient to meet
many of the social challenges today or in the future. Examples of cross-ministry or
government-industry (or third sector) sector collaboration to solve complex problems were
rarely identified or put forward by interviewees. Given the limited scope of the interviews,
OPSI was unable to determine the issues within the system that are discouraging or
blocking the horizontal work necessary to tackle complexity, but this could be something
to explore in more extended and in-depth activities with the Israeli government.
Using the determinants model, OPSI has started to identify potential gaps in the public
sector innovation system of Israel. To reiterate, these are initial observations that would
require more research to unpack and to explore their implications.
Clarity - Reason for innovation
Overall, interviews pointed to a lack of collective understanding of what innovation is and
how it can be utilised in the public sector. When OPSI asked how individuals defined
innovation, it ranged from small, iterative changes to transformative change where the idea
or solution was new to the world. Because of this, there was a large discrepancy in opinions
if the Israeli public sector was even innovative. There was no clear or shared understanding
of what innovation is, when to use it, and what approaches are appropriate. In some cases,
there even seemed to be a reluctance to use the word innovation, which can make it difficult
to make the necessary space, create a strong practice, and improve.
One reason for the fragmented understanding of innovation could be the lack of a clear
stewardship for the public sector innovation system. The interviews provided no clear view
on the exact role government actors played in the system. The interview with the Prime
Minister’s Office revealed a formal responsibility for public sector issues, but it seems the
role of the Prime Minister’s office in relation to innovation, is limited to specific and
targeted initiatives such as hiring programmes that provide new opportunities to recruit
individuals with innovative capabilities. Without system leadership, the responsibility of
leading innovation falls to organisations (sometimes occurring – like the Ministry of
Health) or to individuals (most often). Innovation activities framed by individuals and
organisations can help solve specific problems within their remit. While this can create
immediate impact within a specific programme, this approach can rarely solve systemic
issues that challenge government and society.
Innovation leadership issues also arose during a self-assessment exercise conducted with
many social sector government leaders. Using the Innovation Matrix (Kastelle),
participants indicated that leadership commitment varied dramatically between leaders and
organisations while skills and competencies for innovation are limited.
Kastelle Model from OPSI-Israeli public sector innovation workshop
In the picture above, workshop participants were asked to label their organisation along
two axis – Innovation Commitment (horizontal) and Innovation Competency (vertical).
The blue dot represents the “as-is” and the red dot is where individuals think their
organisation should be. Reflecting on the results, there was a clear understanding that the
current innovation competence is somewhat limited, but that there is high variability
Interestingly, because of Israel’s strong ties to the high-tech industry, most conversations
about innovation revealed a bias towards digital solutions regardless of the identified
problem. Framing solutions in terms of digital can be reductive as it narrows exploration
of other possible tools and methods (e.g. process and behavioural change).
Regarding the public sector digital agenda, there seems to be some overlap of roles and
competition among organisations. While Digital Israel and the ICT Authority have clear
mandates and missions regarding digital innovation, both view themselves as the stewards
of digital innovation. As these organisations are due to merge in the near future, there is an
opportunity to have a strong and clear message for digital innovation.
Clarity-related questions and areas for further study:
Narrative – The story and narrative for innovation in the public sector was unclear.
Is there a narrative regarding innovation? And if so, what does it say about who
should be innovating? Why? When? And how?
Stewardship – Is there a steward currently responsible for the innovation system in
Israel? If not, what would that look like and how would it improve the system?
What does innovative commitment look like in Israel? What does support look like
for innovation at an organisational and system level?
Is there a clear link between innovation and government priorities?
How does the digital priority affect how innovation is understood in the system?
Parity – Possibility to Innovate
There seems to be a continuous exploration of new ideas in the Israeli public sector, but
little evidence of tackling complex and systemic issues emerged during the discussions.
One individual summed up the programme based approach as:
“We have over 200 programmes a year and are barely moving the needle on major
The system appears to provide paths to exploring new ideas, but it is highly variable and
opportunities do not appear to be evenly distributed across the public sector. Additionally,
the ease by which new programmes can be created appears to have created its own unique
While many public servants in OECD countries perceive the lack of funding to try new
things as an obstacle, this was not a major challenge cited during interviews. One reason
may be the position of JDC as a partner in implementing social innovation. The JDC holds
a unique place in the social innovation system in Israel. It is a non-profit that acts as a public
sector sandbox for new programmes and innovation. The JDC has its own independent
funding and special partnership rules with the government - the government and JDC
jointly decide on projects and funding decisions without going through traditional
procurement. This model can help government be stronger stewards of taxpayer monies by
using JDC, and its independent funds, to test new programmes and ensure they are effective
before the government takes them over.
JDC applies its own “DNA” design methodology for social innovation projects with the
government. These projects are co-designed and co-created with ministries with the
intention, if the programme is successful, of the government taking ownership of the project
as the final part of the process. Interviews of JDC and the government suggest that the
transfer of project ownership to the relevant ministries after an initial incubation period was
limited, resulting in the projects remaining limited in scale. The lack of project transfer can
also have downstream effects. For instance, JDC staff discussed their capacity constraints
for new programmes and how promising programmes may need to be stopped to make
space for new opportunities. Further investigation will be required to assess the factors
playing a role in limiting project transfer and its effect on the social innovation system, but
initial interviews indicate a combination of time, money, people, or skills as intervening
Within government, the centralised budgeting system creates opportunities for new ideas
to be tested. Government officials discussed the budgeting system that allows for the
Ministry of Finance to fund new and innovative programmes. While the budget system
needs to be explored more closely, the other general impression from interviews was about
the relative discretionary power that the budget analysts from the Ministry of Finance enjoy
in resource allocation to innovative projects. If the budget analyst responsible for a
ministry’s budget has a high level of trust in the ministry leadership and believes in
innovation, it seems relatively easy to fund new initiatives and programmes. Conversely,
if there is a lack of trust between the analyst and the ministry, or the budget analyst does
not believe in innovation, then doing new things will be a challenge and the flexibilities
within the system will not be available to the ministry.
Parity is not just about the new, but also about being explicit about when to continue and
grow a programme, or conversely, when to stop an ineffective programme. There must be
clear drivers and structural forces for these explicit conversations about programmes to
decide what to continue and when to stop. It is unclear what the specific drivers and
structural forces are in the Israeli public sector. While the creation of new programmes was
cited often, interviewees could not recall programmes that were successfully shut down.
Combining these two conditions - the ease to create new programmes with the lack of
shutting down ineffective programmes – interviews cited human capital capacity issues as
a key structural challenge moving forward.
The lack of actionable data was a factor that was frequently mentioned by public servants
to help solve the problem of continuing ineffective programmes. Based on the frequency
of which this issue was brought up, it appears the demand for data-driven decisions is
gaining momentum, but it was also seen as “the solution” for much of what ails the public
sector. While data can support better decisions, it does not fix culture, leadership, or other
systemic issues. There is no “one solution” for government problems and Israel should
approach data as an opportunity and tool, but not as the only solution.
Finally, the conversations around risk seemed underdeveloped, especially how to properly
discuss the “the risk of not doing anything vs. the risk of doing something new.” Since new
programmes seem relatively easy to create without having to stop something else, these
conversations may not be prevalent. The risk conversation was more prevalent when
discussing shutting down programmes (and how that could affect citizens using the
Parity-related questions and areas for further study
Structural Forces – With future challenges somewhat well-defined, what structural
drivers can be leveraged to push innovation before challenges become crises?
Budgeting – How does Israel’s budgeting process and execution affect innovation
at a system level?
Data-driven public sector – With data becoming an ever-increasing priority, how
can it be used to create a stronger understanding for what works?
Risk – How does Israeli currently view the risk of the status quo vs. the risk of
Suitability – Capability to innovate
Suitability is about having the knowledge, skill, experience, infrastructure, and
mechanisms to innovate. Governments must collectively be fostering a public sector that is
fluent and capable across a spectrum of tools and methods so that governments can apply
the appropriate tool or methodology at the right time.
While public sector systems and organisations seem to build support for innovation by
using a specific methodology to frame innovation and get public servants familiar with new
ways of working, interviews did not reveal a dominant methodology across the Israeli
public sector. Innovation was framed as an unclear and limited concept focused on
generating new ideas. Conversations rarely discussed innovation as a discipline with
defined methods and mindsets. The only evidence of innovation methodologies witnessed
was the digital organisations and JDC (design methodology). This is not to say that other
methods and mindsets do not exist in the Israeli public sector, and further exploration would
be required to fully understand the tools currently available and being used by public sector
innovators in Israel.
Additionally, digital work is occurring across ministries. Digitisation was consistently
mentioned, but many of the conversations were focused on digitising current, in-person
services. There was limited discussion about new business models and methodologies that
reflect the more digital world and that can be used to increase public value.
During the innovation workshop at the JDC, this gap between improving the status quo and
exploring new models and methodologies was further reinforced. By asking participants to
create a list of current public sector innovative projects and place them on OPSI’s
innovation facet model, almost all innovations were “enhancement” (improving the as-is)
and adaptive (bottom-up reacting to a changing reality) innovations. There were few
mission (ambitious and cross-cutting) and anticipatory (making sense of the unknown, like
One of the reasons countries may lack certain types of innovation is a limited skills
capacity. Without building ample capacity for all innovation types, innovation will always
be limited. Governments, including Israel, are developing programmes to increase capacity
and it appears to show some early returns.
JDC Elka Institute for Leadership and Governance partners with the government to develop
solutions to systemic challenges which limit the ability to provide effective and efficient
social service. For example, interviews reflected leadership programmes, like the JDC
Leadership and Digital Leaders programmes, have helped leaders better drive innovation
in their organisations. OPSI research has found that leaders often affect the level of
innovation within a team or organisation and improving leadership’s capacity to lead
innovation can help create space for more innovation to occur. B’nai Brach was an example
of taking digital mindsets to drive change in a difficult environment.
While there are programmes focused on improving the capacity for innovative leadership,
public servants also need to have the capabilities necessary to execute innovation. Along
those lines, OPSI learned about hiring programmes similar to the United States Presidential
Innovation Fellows (PIF) that are being developed to make the public sector more enticing
to innovators in the private sector as well as shrink the skills gaps in government.
Suitability-related questions and areas for further study
Digital Innovation - Is digital innovation focused only on digitisation, or is it
opening conversations, reflections, and sharing for how digital can challenge
business models, norms, and methodologies?
Learning Culture - Does the Israeli innovation system ensure there is a learning
culture which makes space for learning and testing new tools and methods in the
Innovative Leadership - What is expected of leaders in Israel in regards to
supporting innovation and exploring complex challenges and new solutions?
Building capacity - There are many initiatives to help train and recruit individuals
with innovative skills. Are these self-reinforcing? Or duplicative? Are there any
gaps? Is it at the level necessary to drive long-term change across the Israeli public
Normality – Experience innovating
There are generally two broad versions of how the overall public sector internalises the
innovator’s journey in the public sector:
The public sector sees how innovation successes are celebrated. Leaders
encourage and reward innovation. In this instance, the system and its leaders
challenge public servants to be innovative and challenge the norm. There are
celebrations for innovations, awards, and often promotions.
The public sector sees how the system reacts when innovation fails. Once
innovation fails, leaders verbally encourage innovation while discouraging new
ideas and limiting their personal ties to the failed idea. In this case, leaders
abandon their support for the project, the media gets involved, and people are
In today’s public service, both of these journeys can be true in the same system. Often,
governments work to improve the first journey. They focus on incentives for innovating
without addressing the dis-incentives that exist in the system. OPSI has observed that public
servants are more fearful of punishment than motivated by the reward.
This determinant is the hardest to unearth in a short-term engagement. Interviews revealed
a rules-based culture where trying new things, outside of creating new programmes, was
considered a risk that most seemed unwilling to take. Many interviews cited the Remedia
Scandal as an example of repercussions for not doing exactly what was in the law. Other
interviews discussed having formal interviews with the police regarding a co-worker’s
wrongdoings during their career.
There was also a lack of any strong recognition about innovation during the mission. There
was no mention of awards or celebrations. This does not mean they do not exist, but it is
telling that they did not come up during the discussions. This could stem from the lack of
data and understanding success. The public sector may not have a good model for what
innovation success looks like, which ends up with scattered innovation efforts through new
programmes without understanding impact.
Normality-related questions and areas for further study
Absorptive Capacity – If Israel’s social sector is outsourcing a lot of
experimentation and learning to JDC, how are those lessons fed back and made
meaningful within government? Feedback loops and learning journeys are critical
to the development of innovation within government.
Practice – How is the practice of innovation developing within government?
Connected Ecosystem – How can the public sector more systematically learn and
engage with the innovation and work of the private and third sector?
Are there dominant experiences which shape how public servants view and
What are the behaviours that are being encouraged, reinforced, and discouraged in
the system and how does that relate to the level and types of innovation?
Opportunities for further engagement with OPSI
Since the mission, Israeli government and JDC’s engagement with OPSI has intensified
showing potential for further collaboration. In the first two months after the mission:
OPSI held a lecture for the London School of Economics and JDC leadership
programme in Paris for Israeli public servants
Provided guidance to the Israel government on their unique hiring programmes that
are modelled after the Presidential Innovation Fellows (PIF) in the USA and the
Government Digital Services (GDS) in the UK
Connected individuals working on indigenous communities with individuals
tackling similar issues in other countries
Introduced JDC to the innovation units in Finland to help JDC improve their work
Reviewing and advising the Civil Service Commission on their R&D Strategy
Reflecting on the mission, interviews, as well as the Israeli government and JDC’s ambition
and interest, OPSI has identified a set of possible activities which could provide optimal
value to the to both the Israel Government and JDC. These activities include:
Become part of the community –Contribute to OPSI international database of
case studies and share its innovation cases and practices.
Participate in global events and expert discussion on public sector innovation -
including through dedicated OECD networks such as the Network of National
Increasing capacity to master innovation processes – participating in
workshops to increase civil servants’ ability to understand and apply an actionfocused system thinking approach to complex challenges. These programmes
have a central challenge or mission and focuses on understanding the system
and developing solutions.
Support leadership to engage with innovation – building tailored training
modules on innovation skills, systems thinking, mission-oriented innovation,
and innovation facets. These modules and trainings bring a broad and unique
perspective as well as international best practices.
Annex A: Organisations Interviewed
OPSI attempted to get the most comprehensive view of the system during the mission. As
such, OPSI interviewed representatives from:
The Prime Minister’s Office
The National Economic Council
Ministry of Finance
Government ICT Authority
Israeli Governmental Procurement Administration
Ministry of Social Equality
Ministry of Justice
Ministry of Interior
Ministry of Welfare
Ministry of Education
Municipality of Jerusalem
Municipality of Tel Aviv-Jaffa
Civil Society organisations
rd Sector organisations working with government
Joint Distribution Committee Institute for Leadership and Governance