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Delivering public services innovation: Evidence from Wales

Last year, Y Lab, the public services innovation lab for Wales, set out to gather evidence around what helped to drive public services innovation.

As a result of devolution and the formation of the National Assembly in 1998, there are significant opportunities for Wales’ public services to innovate at a local level and become a testbed for new approaches that could be scaled beyond the borders.

Calling for examples from local government and third sector organisations, we gathered information from those who had been involved in the process of trying new things and had achieved success over the past 19 years. We received over 70 submissions, and conducted interviews with more than 30 people.

Several drivers for innovation appeared consistently across the projects. We’ve outlined four of these, but to read the full report with case studies, please download the document on the right-hand side of this page.

Partnerships are central  

Complex public service problems require cross-disciplinary knowledge and cooperation; diversity is good for innovation. Those that succeed work out different strategies depending on the type of organisational mix and type and complexity of idea. Dealing with difficult questions upfront is essential, as is setting expectations and ensuring that the balance of risk and reward is shared and understood.

Identifying credible champions is vital 

Reshaping services can be hard especially where professional groups have strong ethical and professional responsibility for the wellbeing of potential users.  Early adopters can drive forward changes.  The presence of conflict is often reported; people may have something to lose from the removal of the existing order and how this is managed across stakeholders is vital to success. Challenge should be expected; some people ask for forgiveness and others for permission.

Third sector connectivity can help large organisations to innovate internally

The third sector holds an interesting place in the innovation landscape sitting between public bodies and users and can provide insights for services. Government can assist third sector organisations in managing risk and devolve some areas of leadership to the third sector, potentially improving service delivery.

National schemes and large funded centres can promote further local innovation

The ‘Russian doll effect’ can help by providing skilled people and strong brands that people can use to promote their own initiatives. Strong identifiers are vital for communicating across stakeholders.

Download and read the full report by clicking the links below.

Y Lab is looking to use the information shared to help us understand how and why innovation happens in public services and inform research and teaching at Cardiff University. More information can be found at or follow us on Twitter.


Dr Paul Grimshaw

Paul Grimshaw is a research fellow with Y Lab, the Public Services Innovation Lab for Wales, created by Cardiff University and Nesta in 2015. His role is to help build the research p...