Passing the Buck? How Risk Behaviours Shape Collaborative Innovation

  • Krista Timeus
Part of the Executive Politics and Governance book series (EXPOLGOV)


Timeus analyses how public managers’ risk perceptions shape their willingness to pursue collaborative innovation. Through qualitative analysis of semi-structured interviews with public managers in Barcelona municipality, Timeus shows how they avoided collaboration in the design stage of innovation to limit the risk of losing control and authority over the innovation process. This risk-avoiding behaviour motivated public managers to limit collaboration to the implementation stages of innovation, mainly to transfer operational and financial risks to the private sector. Timeus’ analysis shows that public managers’ risk perceptions limit their willingness to collaborate precisely when collaboration can most benefit the innovation process: in the design stage. This helps explain why public managers often overlook or avoid opportunities to engage other actors in solving complex problems.


Public sector innovation Collaborative innovation Risk perceptions Blame avoidance 


  1. Abrahamson, E., & Rosenkopf, L. (1997). Social network effects on the extent of innovation diffusion: A computer simulation. Organization Science, 8(3), 289–309.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Agger, A., & Sørensen, E. (2014). Designing collaborative policy innovation: Lessons from a Danish municipality. In C. Ansell & J. Torfing (Eds.), Public innovation through collaboration and design (pp. 170–208). Abingdon: Routledge.Google Scholar
  3. Ansell, C., & Gash, A. (2008). Collaborative governance in theory and practice. Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, 18(4), 543–571.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Ansell, C., & Torfing, J. (Eds.). (2014). Public innovation through collaboration and design. Abingdon: Routledge.Google Scholar
  5. Bekkers, V., Edelenbos, J., & Steijn, B. (2011). An innovative public sector? Embarking on the innovation journey. In V. Bekkers, J. Edelenbos, & B. Steijn (Eds.), Innovation in the public sector: Linking capacity and leadership (pp. 197–221). New York: Palgrave Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Boholm, Å., & Corvellec, H. (2011). A relational theory of risk. Journal of Risk Research, 14(2), 175–190.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bommert, B. (2010). Collaborative innovation in the public sector. International Public Management Review, 11(1), 15–33.Google Scholar
  8. Brogaard, L. (2017). The impact of innovation training on successful outcomes in public–private partnerships. Public Management Review, 19(8), 1184–1205.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Brown, L. (2010). Balancing risk and innovation to improve social work practice. British Journal of Social Work, 40(4), 1211–1228.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Brown, L., & Osborne, S. P. (2013). Risk and innovation. Public Management Review, 15(2), 186–208.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Busuioc, E. M. (2016). Friend or foe? Inter-agency cooperation, organizational reputation, and turf. Public Administration, 94(1), 40–56.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Bysted, R., & Jespersen, K. R. (2014). Exploring managerial mechanisms that influence innovative work behaviour: Comparing private and public employees. Public Management Review, 16(2), 217–241.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Carpenter, D. P. (2001). The forging of bureaucratic autonomy: Reputations, networks, and policy innovation in executive agencies, 1862–1928. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  14. De Vries, H. A., Bekkers, V., & Tummers, L. G. (2016). Innovation in the public sector: A systematic review and future research agenda. Public Administration, 94(1), 146–166.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Doberstein, C. (2016). Designing collaborative governance decision-making in search of a ‘collaborative advantage’. Public Management Review, 18(6), 819–841.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Edelenbos, J., & Klijn, E.-H. (2009). Project versus process management in public–private partnership: Relation between management style and outcomes. International Public Management Journal, 12(3), 310–331.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Ferrado, M. L. (2014). Doctor smart on the phone. Barcelona Metròpolis, 91, 20–21.Google Scholar
  18. Gavaldà, J., & Ribera-Fumaz, R. (2012). Barcelona 5.0: From knowledge to smartness (Working Paper Series No. WP12–002). Barcelona: Universitat Oberta de Catalunya.Google Scholar
  19. Hambleton, R., & Howard, J. (2013). Place-based leadership and public service innovation. Local Government Studies, 39(1), 47–70.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Harrow, J. (1997). Managing risk and delivering quality services: A case study perspective. International Journal of Public Sector Management, 10(5), 331–352.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Hartley, J. (2013). Public and private features of innovation. In S. P. Osborne & L. Brown (Eds.), Handbook of innovation in public services (pp. 44–59). Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Hodge, G. A., & Greve, C. (2005). The challenge of public–private partnerships: Learning from international experience. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Hood, C. (2011). The blame game: Spin, bureaucracy, and self-preservation in government. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  24. Huxham, C. (1996). Creating collaborative advantage. London: Sage.Google Scholar
  25. Huxham, C., & Macdonald, D. (1992). Introducing collaborative advantage: Achieving inter-organizational effectiveness through meta-strategy. Management Decision, 30(3), 50–56.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Huxham, C., & Vangen, S. (2005). Managing to collaborate: The theory and practice of collaborative advantage. Abingdon: Routledge.Google Scholar
  27. Huxham, C., Vangen, S., Huxham, C., & Eden, C. (2000). The challenge of collaborative governance. Public Management: An International Journal of Research and Theory, 2(3), 337–358.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Janssen, O., Van de Vliert, E., & West, M. A. (2004). The bright and dark sides of individual and group innovation: A special issue introduction. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 25(2), 129–145.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Klein, P. G., Mahoney, J. T., McGahan, A. M., & Pitelis, C. N. (2010). Toward a theory of public entrepreneurship. European Management Review, 7(1), 1–15.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Klijn, E., & Teisman, G. R. (2003). Institutional and strategic barriers to public-private partnership: An analysis of Dutch cases. Public Money & Management, 23(3), 137–146.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Koppenjan, J. (2008). Creating a playing field for assessing the effectiveness of network collaboration by performance measures. Public Management Review, 10(6), 699–714.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Lægreid, P., Roness, P. G., & Verhoest, K. (2011). Explaining the innovative culture and activities of state agencies. Organization Studies, 32(10), 1321–1347.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Mandell, M., Keast, R., & Chamberlain, D. (2017). Collaborative networks and the need for a new management language. Public Management Review, 19(3), 326–341.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Meyer, R. E., Egger-Peitler, I., Höllerer, M. A., & Hammerschmid, G. (2014). Of bureaucrats and passionate public managers: Institutional logics, executive identities, and public service motivation. Public Administration, 92(4), 861–885.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Moynihan, D. P. (2012). Extra-network organizational reputation and blame avoidance in networks: The hurricane Katrina example. Governance, 25(4), 567–588.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Mulgan, G. (2012). The theoretical foundations of social innovation. In A. Nicholls & A. Murdock (Eds.), Social innovation: Blurring boundaries to reconfigure markets (pp. 33–65). Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. O’Toole, L. J. (1997). Treating networks seriously: Practical and research-based agendas in public administration. Public Administration Review, 57(1), 45–52.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Osborne, S. P., & Brown, L. (2011). Innovation in public services: Engaging with risk. Public Money & Management, 31(1), 4–6.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Osborne, S. P., & Flemig, S. (2015). Conceptualizing risk and social innovation: An integrated framework for risk governance. Society and Economy in Central and Eastern Europe, 37(2), 165–182.Google Scholar
  40. Parker, D., & Hartley, K. (2003). Transaction costs, relational contracting and public private partnerships: A case study of UK defence. Journal of Purchasing and Supply Management, 9(3), 97–108.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Puttick, R., Baeck, P., & Colligan, P. (2014). i-teams: The teams and funds making innovation happen in governments around the world. London and New York: Nesta and Bloomberg Philanthropies.Google Scholar
  42. Radnor, Z., & Osborne, S. P. (2013). Lean: A failed theory for public services? Public Management Review, 15(2), 265–287.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Rogers, E. M. (2010). Diffusion of innovations (4th ed.). New York: Simon & Schuster.Google Scholar
  44. Sørensen, E., & Torfing, J. (2011). Enhancing collaborative innovation in the public sector. Administration & Society, 43(8), 842–868.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Tidd, J., & Bessant, J. (2013). Managing innovation: Integrating technological, market and organizational change (5th ed.). Chichester: Wiley.Google Scholar
  46. Torfing, J., & Triantafillou, P. (2016). Enhancing public innovation by transforming public governance. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Vangen, S., Hayes, J. P., & Cornforth, C. (2015). Governing cross-sector, inter-organizational collaborations. Public Management Review, 17(9), 1237–1260.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Vangen, S., & Winchester, N. (2014). Managing cultural diversity in collaborations: A focus on management tensions. Public Management Review, 16(5), 686–707.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Viladecans-Marsal, E., & Arauzo-Carod, J. (2012). Can a knowledge-based cluster be created? The case of the Barcelona 22@ district. Papers in Regional Science, 91(2), 377–400.Google Scholar
  50. Walker, R. M. (2014). Internal and external antecedents of process innovation. Public Management Review, 16(1), 21–44.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Willem, A., & Lucidarme, S. (2014). Pitfalls and challenges for trust and effectiveness in collaborative networks. Public Management Review, 16(5), 733–760.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Wilson, J. Q. (1989). Bureaucracy: What government agencies do and why they do it. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  53. Wise, R., Wegrich, K., & Lodge, M. (2014). Governance innovations. In Hertie School of Governance (Ed.), The governance report 2014 (pp. 77–109). Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  54. Wynen, J., Verhoest, K., Ongaro, E., & Van Thiel, S. (2014). Innovation-oriented culture in the public sector: Do managerial autonomy and result control lead to innovation? Public Management Review, 16(1), 45–66.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Yin, R. K. (2013). Case study research (5th ed.). London: Sage.Google Scholar
  56. Ysa, T., Esteve, M., & Longo, F. (2013). Enhancing innovation in public organizations through public-private partnerships: The role of public managers. In C. Greve & G. A. Hodge (Eds.), Rethinking public-private partnerships: Strategies for turbulent times (pp. 98–113). London: Routledge.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Krista Timeus
    • 1
  1. 1.Center for Public Governance, ESADE Business and Law SchoolBarcelonaSpain

Personalised recommendations