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Collaborative Innovation: A Viable Alternative to Market Competition and Organizational Entrepreneurship


  • Jean Hartley is professor of public leadership in the Department of Public Leadership and Social Enterprise at the Open University Business School. Her research interests are in public leadership (political, managerial, professional, and community) and innovation in governance and public services, including both institutional perspectives and employee experiences of innovation and other forms of organizational change. E-mail:
  • Eva Sørensen is professor of public administration in the Department of Society and Globalization at Roskilde University. She is currently director of a large research project on public innovation and vice director of the Centre of Democratic Network Governance. Her main research interests are the impact of new forms of governance on the provision of effective, democratic, and innovative public governance. A special research interest is the study of how new forms of governance challenge traditional role perceptions among citizens, public employees, and politicians. E-mail:
  • Jacob Torfi ng is professor of politics and institutions in the Department of Society and Globalization, Roskilde University. He is director of the Centre for Democratic Network Governance and vice director of a strategic research project on collaborative innovation in the public sector. His research interests include public governance reforms, governance networks, democracy, and public innovativon. He recently published Interactive Governance: Advancing the Paradigm (Oxford University Press), coauthored with Jon Pierre, Guy Peters, and Eva Sørensen. E-mail:


There are growing pressures for the public sector to be more innovative but considerable disagreement about how to achieve it. This article uses institutional and organizational analysis to compare three major public innovation strategies. The article confronts the myth that the market-driven private sector is more innovative than the public sector by showing that both sectors have a number of drivers of as well as barriers to innovation, some of which are similar, while others are sector specific. The article then systematically analyzes three strategies for innovation: New Public Management, which emphasizes market competition; the neo-Weberian state, which emphasizes organizational entrepreneurship; and collaborative governance, which emphasizes multiactor engagement across organizations in the private, public, and nonprofit sectors. The authors conclude that the choice of strategies for enhancing public innovation is contingent rather than absolute. Some contingencies for each strategy are outlined.