Latest Public Sector News


The i-teams creating a new experimental government

Source: Public Sector Executive Aug/Sept 2014

Ruth Puttick, principal researcher on public and social innovation at Nesta, and co-author of the new Nesta and Bloomberg Philanthropies i-teams report, explains its findings.

The argument for innovation in government is largely won. Most would agree that faced with fiscal pressures, rising demands, and complex problems, governments have no choice but to innovate. Yet too often innovation efforts are at best patchy, or at worse, non-existent.

The reasons for this are often quite understandable. Busy public sector executives are focused on the day-to-day; there is limited time to be thinking about new approaches; mainstream budgets can sustain the incumbent approaches; and the very nature of bureaucracy can reject and hinder experimentation and change.

The best mayors and ministers recognise these barriers and are putting in place the institutions and structures to catalyse innovation. These are the i-teams.

New research from Nesta and Bloomberg Philanthropies has identified a global trend for governments around the world to set up innovation teams, funds, and units. And these i-teams are having a dramatic impact on government performance, tackling issues as diverse as reducing murder rates to improving educational attainment.

Drawing on an in-depth literature review, over 80 interviews, and surveys, the i-teams report tells the stories of 20 teams, units and funds. All are established by government, and all are charged with making innovation happen. The i-teams are based in city, regional and national governments across six continents, and work across the spectrum of innovation – from focusing on incremental improvements to aiming for radical transformations.

This truly is a global trend, with i-teams spanning six continents. The number in Asia is rising rapidly, but the greatest concentration is currently in North America and Europe.

The impact the i-teams are having is impressive. Take the Behavioural Insights Team, the world’s first government unit dedicated to applying insights from behavioural science to policy challenges. Over four years, the team has implemented low-cost, high-impact changes in fields as diverse as taxation, healthcare, employment and environmental sustainability. In the first two years of it operation, the Behavioural Insights Team has achieved government savings of around 22 times the cost of the team.

Another i-team is MindLab, a Danish unit using human-centred design as a way to identify problems and develop policy recommendations. One project helped businesses to find the right industry code for registrations and demonstrated a 21:1 return on investment in savings to government and businesses.

Over in the USA there is a high concentration of i-teams. One example is the New Orleans Innovation Delivery Team, which is based in city hall and tasked with solving mayoral challenges. Their public safety efforts led to a 20% reduction in the number of murders in 2013 compared to the previous year.

In Singapore is PS21, a team based in central government. Their ethos is based on encouraging staff to find better ways of improving Singaporean public services. An evaluation of PS21 estimated that over a year it generated 520,000 suggestions from staff, of which approximately 60% were implemented, leading to savings of around £55m.

Another Asian i-team is PEMANDU, which is helping implement the Malaysian government’s vision for better public services. One of PEMANDU’s projects supported Malaysian law enforcement and reduced reported street crime by 35% in one year.

Founded in 1967, Sitra in Finland is the oldest i-team we look at in the report. Sitra has been reinvented three times to meet changing needs in Finnish society, and is currently using its endowment of £535m to drive innovation within areas such as healthcare and sustainability. It is estimated that Sitra’s work on sustainable energy has led to around £1bn in savings for the Finnish government.

These examples just give a flavour of the activity taking place in governments around the world. We expect the trend to continue to gather pace and momentum as other governments start to develop their own i-teams. To help connect this rapidly evolving field and to help governments learn from what is happening, and avoid starting their innovation efforts from scratch, there is a new website:

This site is a living map to feature new i-teams, and to help a global network of government innovators to share resources, practice and methods for others to emulate and borrow.

We are far from all governments having dedicated innovation teams, but the i-teams are offering us a glimpse of the future and the possibilities that a new kind of experimental government offers.

Tell us what you think – have your say below or email [email protected]


There are no comments. Why not be the first?

Add your comment

public sector executive tv

more videos >

last word

Prevention: Investing for the future

Prevention: Investing for the future

Rob Whiteman, CEO at the Chartered Institute of Public Finance (CIPFA), discusses the benefits of long-term preventative investment. Rising demand, reducing resource – this has been the r more > more last word articles >

public sector focus

View all News


Peter Kyle MP: It’s time to say thank you this Public Service Day

21/06/2019Peter Kyle MP: It’s time to say thank you this Public Service Day

Taking time to say thank you is one of the hidden pillars of a society. Bei... more >
How community-led initiatives can help save the housing shortage

19/06/2019How community-led initiatives can help save the housing shortage

Tom Chance, director at the National Community Land Trust Network, argues t... more >


Artificial intelligence: the devil is in the data

17/12/2018Artificial intelligence: the devil is in the data

It’s no secret that the public sector and its service providers need ... more >