How realistic is a public agency that acts like a start-up?

The idea of replicating the mythical low-cost innovation of a start-up in government is increasingly popular. But there are limits to what bureaucrats can learn from business, experts tell The Mandarin.

The elusive goal: emulate the best examples of private sector innovation in government. Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull has been a long-time advocate, and now has a “Digital Transformation Office” to test the theory.

But how realistic is a start-up mentality inside government?

There’s clearly fundamental differences between a team of public servants and a successful start-up. But business professor Roy Green believes there’s no reason why some of the key elements like design-led innovation and disruptive business models can’t be imported into the public sector. It just might not be the actual small start-ups that offer the best examples to follow.

Green suggests governments follow the lead of large corporations. Faced with competition from small, low-cost start-ups, many are trying to harness the same kind of creative energy through internal start-ups and business incubators. These in-house innovation efforts build on the idea of a Skunk Works — a research and development team given the latitude to tinker with new ideas — but take it a few steps further.

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