AuthorGellen, Marton
  1. Introductory remarks

    Hungarian public administration (PA) culture can be characterized as a mixture of Weberian, legalistic legacy--inherited from the Austro-Hungarian period (Hajnal, 2003; Hajnal, 2008, p. 132; Hajnal, 2013; Drechsler, 2009; Gal and Gellen, 2015; Newland, 1976), post-Soviet type authoritative style (Cameron and Orenstein, 2012) and recent politicization (Melyer-Sahling, 2006) that is in line with general Western mediatization and personification of party politics (Hjarvard, 2013, pp. 67-69). These are the three dominant legacies--highlighted by contemporary theorists--that have influenced the current status of Hungarian PA culture [1].

    In this article I focus on the prerequisites of innovation as potential sources of renewed leadership in a traditionally hierarchic and legalistic public administration culture whose traits are depicted by theorists as factors contrary to innovation.

  2. Public sector innovation as a field of academic interest

    Having a brief outlook on public sector innovativeness literature, a certain chunk of theory can be identified that is engaged in defining innovation and specifically defining innovation in the public sector. Another chunk of theory deals with certain characteristics of public sector innovation as particular aspects of academic inquiry. According to Moore and Hartley (2008) 'innovations are new ideas and practices brought into practice', while Osborne and Brown (2005) put emphasis on introducing new elements into public service while emphasizing discontinuity with the practices of the past. Van Wart distinguishes creativity from innovation stating that 'Creativity is the ability to think nonroutine ways, while innovation is the adaptation of ideas or ways to a new setting' (Van Wart, 2012, p. 222); Van Wart (2012) concludes that innovation is a managerial activity while creativity should be studied from both individual and organizational viewpoints but creativity is not necessarily a management trait. This approach divides Moore's and Hartley's compact definition to knowledge creation and knowledge uptake.

    Regarding public sector innovation in Central and Easter European context there are relatively few studies. Kobylinska and Biglieri (2015) have recently argued that public sector innovativeness can be compared based on international rankings; public sector innovativeness rankings provide a sufficient ground for measurement if adjusted properly to the given research aim.

    In a politicized but still dominantly Weberian, hierarchic and legalistic public administration, the initiators for innovation are either at the top or at the bottom of the organizations. At the top we see sometimes real public entrepreneurs who are 'tenacious and goal driven, working long hours, willing to take risks, confident and skilled in using political connections' (Osborne and Brown, 2013, p. 6). At the bottom we find ordinary field workers who are under everyday adaptation pressures inflicted by the tension of client demands and scarce resources. According to the contemporary mainstream understanding of innovation in public sector institutions we find that innovation is attributed to a certain sense of pluralism, dynamism and variability. According to Hartley (2005, p. 27) innovation in the public sector 'is usually not a physical artifact at all, but a change in the relationships between service providers and their users'. Thus innovation is primarily relational in the context of putting the 'service' aspect into the spotlight (Osborne, Radnor and Nasi, 2013). According to Borins (2006) there are five areas of innovation in the public sector:

    * System approach: better integration and coordination of public organizations' activities, partnerships, forms of cooperation between units of the public sector;

    * The use of new technologies in providing services;

    * Improvement of processes;

    * Involvement and participation of staff, citizens and local communities; and

    * Cooperation with the commercial sector and NGOs (transfer of public tasks to the private sector).

    Gieske, van Buuren and Bekkers (2016) offer an integrated approach to innovative capacity. They combine earlier theories on individual, organizational and network level innovative capacity and they also use the notions of connective capacity, ambidextrous capacity and learning capacity. Connective capacity in this construct embraces linking of content and linking of actors by trust, social capital and reciprocity. At the organizational level Gieske, van Buuren and Bekkers (2016) state that connective capacity contains institutionalized provisions to create intra- and inter-organizational networks via trust-building and network-building. Additionally, the authors use the concept of capacity for actively pressing on innovation through exploration and exploitation of knowledge, based on the earlier works of March (1991), Andrioupolis and Lewis (2009), and Nooteboom and Stam (2008).

    Gieske, van Buuren and Bekkers (2016) attribute high level of innovativeness to organizations that have ambidextrous capacity, signifying the ability to use both explorative and exploitative capacities in a balanced fashion through institutional boundaries, being able to favor autonomy to control and increase the efficiency, if necessary. Organizational level ambidextrous capacity is attributed to balanced strategies and policies that equally support innovation and efficiency while seriously dealing with the necessity of improving public value. The third element of innovative capacity in this model is learning capacity that on the individual level consists of reflective attitude, tolerance to ambiguity and change, and openness to experience and diversity. On the organizational level the authors identified organizational methods for stimulating creativity and sharing ideas while on the network level they identified innovative milieu and embedded learning processes into policies as learning capacity characteristics.

    The aim of the research is to find empirical evidence on what prerequisites innovation might have in a centralized, legalistic public administration that has a strong Weberian legacy: who are the innovators and what they look like? It is somewhat counterintuitive that there are innovators in such a public administration culture? Still, it appears logical to assume that there are certain individuals who are more innovative than others with respect to their individual traits and to their perceptions on existing and desirable organizational behavior.

  3. Source of analyzed data

    The current article is based on a part of a vast empirical research that originally consisted of three phases. The first phase of the research contained 40 stakeholder interviews (around 60 minutes each) within the high echelons of government (Ministry of Public Administration): division heads, directors and deputy state secretaries. The second phase of the research (conducted between 17 March and 4 April, 2014) embraced an online questionnaire within central civil service. 11,057 civil servants provided full response out of the 40,000 addressees of the entire central civil service of approx. 80,000 people (Central civil service embraces ministerial and territorial civil service) from 34 public institutions. Detailed breakdown of public institutions involved in the sample can be found in Annex I. Responses were given on a 1 to 5 scale, 1 meaning definite negation or extreme negative perception while 5 meaning definite consent or extreme positive perception.

    Respondents answering 'don't know' to any of the questions involved in this research were excluded from the sample. As a result 8,233 responses were used out of the total. The third phase of the whole research was a brief questionnaire applied to 1,000 respondents, representative for the entire Hungarian population, on the topic of public sector reforms. The first two phases of the research contain information on the perceptions of the civil service trust, delegation, outsourcing, collaboration with social partners and competition--further detailed in this article. The content of the complete research would far exceed the limits of this article, therefore, I concentrate on elements that can be considered as prerequisites of innovation in the public sector from the first two phases of the research.

  4. Results of the first phase of the research: stakeholder interviews in order to refine assumptions on Hungarian PA to create hypothesis

    Stakeholder interviews were carried out in order to support the elaboration of the online questionnaire applied in the second phase of the research. The interviews were based on a unified series of questions (guide) that the interviewers could use for open questions. The guide consisted of 6 blocks out of which two can be attributed to the content of innovativeness of public sector: 'cooperation and trust' and 'hierarchy and efficiency'. Questions relevant to innovativeness in the qualitative part of the research are displayed in Table 1.

    Stakeholder interviews were made with public leaders, therefore it is natural that they felt that they had to protect their institutions and implicitly themselves. Thus they dominantly tended to recite a somewhat textbook-version of public administration values they thought were the attributes of well-functioning public institutions. The qualitative analysis highlighted certain characteristics that are known from the literature that Hungarian public administration belongs to the Weberian-legalistic European PA culture, having dominantly the following values: 1. loyalty; 2. professionalism; 3. devotion; 4. compliance to legal provisions and impartiality; 5. public good; and 6. cooperation.

    The questions above enabled the analysis of the following elements: (1) internal cooperation vs. competitiveness, (2) trust in competence of civil servants, (3) motivational factors, (4) control, (5) interinstitutional relations, (6) strategic vision, and...

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