Public innovators: Drivers of change

What’s going to drive public innovation in public life and politics? People will. In the final analysis, we need public innovators to imagine a different path, to build different kinds of mechanisms, to create organizations that are catalytic, to create the conditions for a more robust public life and politics. Recently, my colleagues and I looked back over nearly 20 years of Harwood Institute work, and one of the key insights we gained was that all of our successful work was fueled by a very particular kind of person.

These individuals combined, in different ways, a collection of characteristics. I’ll summarize these characteristics in three ways:

  • They are driven by their ideals and aspirations – these were not magically implanted in them or simply gleaned from a book. These individuals came to us already jazzed.
  • They are pragmatic in their approach to public life and politics. They do not allow their ideals and aspirations to make them mushy or overly sentimental. They are driven by a deep desire to create change and make society better.
  • They understand risk and know how to calibrate it. They can figure out how much risk they can afford to take in any given situation, and they are constantly measuring where they stand.

The change we need in much of our public life and politics is base-level, systemic change. Public innovators can help find new pathways for people to tap their own potential to make a difference and join together to build a common future.

I’ve come to believe that the cultivation of public innovators, and our ability to support them, is so important that The Harwood Institute created the Public Innovators Lab to help people develop their sensibilities and practices around public innovation and leadership. Moreover, we are launching this year our first Annual Public Innovators Summit to bring together under one roof people who have been innovating and who want to share ideas and lessons about pathways for making a difference; who want to wrestle with common challenges; and who want to build a network of ideas and support.

There are wonderful people across the country – including you – who are public innovators and maybe never even thought of themselves in that way. I want to find them and work with them. We need more public innovators in public life and politics.

Why? To address the challenges we know all too well.