PUBLIC INNOVATION IN POST-TRANSITION COUNTRIES: EXPERIENCES FROM BRAZIL AND ROMANIA.

AuthorTonelli, Dany Flavio
  1. Introduction

    Under the umbrella of the economic theory, innovation is the insertion of new ideas, new practices, or new proceedings, or the improvement of the existing products or services. When translated to the public context, innovation represents the break of bureaucratic patterns, leaving room for the new practices able to promote the efficiency and effectiveness of public policies (Crosby, 't Hart and Torfing, 2017).

    The simple translation of the economic approach is not enough to perceive all the features enrolled in the innovation applied to the public sector. The governments are worried not only about the efficiency of management or the economic results, but also because they need to make and implement their decisions in a given political context in a succesful way, which leads to the delivery of public value. According to Bason (2010) and Bryson, Crosby and Bloomberg (2014), public value is a central concept for understanding public innovation. It is related to the capacity of governments in transforming new ideas into value for society.

    Although the NPM has become a convergent model between practitioners, there is no consensus among scholars about whether NPM generates public value and a better society (Osborne et al., 2015). According to some authors, NPM is a neoliberal approach (Lorenz, 2012) which tends to downsize the states and prioritizes an individualistic approach of the public service (Haque, 2007). Others affirm that NPM is contrary to the ethos of public service since it regards the market relations over the citizen engagement and the public interest (Denhardt and Denhardt, 2015). Beyond this debate, we analyze in detail two statements. First, the comprehension of innovation under the perspective of public value is useful to conciliate the capacity of the state for promoting, for example, social policies with the budget limitations, especially in the context of the increase of social demands. Second, countries' history is essential for the understanding of their unique trajectories in terms of public innovation.

    Contrary to the tendency to convergence in the innovation theory, the existing literature does not provide enough support for understanding how relational-subjective and material-objective aspects connect the local and divergent conditions to the global and convergent mainstream of modernization. Concerning the local conditions, the local history is of high relevance for understanding their particular capacity to create and re-create new solutions for public policies.

    Thus, we compare two cases, Brazil and Romania, aiming to illustrate the connection between innovation, modernization, and path-dependence. The paper focuses on innovation in public administration, and how public policies changed under the impact of social development, analyzing the contribution of local history to innovation. One of these cases is Brazil, where after two decades of a non-democratic regime and a hard period of re-democratization, the reform started in the 1990s with the 'Plan of State Reform' (Bresser-Pereira, 2015). The other case study is Romania, where, after almost five decades of closed communist regime, the transition to democracy and market economy started three decades ago. The communist legacy put a strong imprint on the reform of public administration in Romania (Hintea and Ticlau, 2018), these cultural and historical elements pushing the country on a particular track after 1989. A significant part of the social and economic transformations occurred under the external pressures of international organizations (such as the European Commission, The World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund) in combination with economic development leading to modernization and Europeanization (Holzinger and Knill, 2005; Knill and Lehmkuhl, 2002; Olsen, 2002). We think these contexts are fruitful to demonstrate that the initiatives are the outcome of the combination between the historical context and the material frames.

    The next part of this study presents the connections between public innovation and the theoretical perspectives of path-dependence and actor-network theory (ANT). After this preliminary discussion, we compare two cases of innovation in the public services of education from Brazil and Romania. The last section introduces the conclusions, proposing an agenda for further research in the field of innovation in public administration.

  2. Public innovation, path-dependence and actor-network theory

    Innovation in the public sector involves at least two different interpretations. First, it can refer to the public policies of innovation, which intend to create appropriate environments for the practices of innovation in the private sector. Under this perspective, there is a wide range of policies of science and technology on the strategic areas of the public agenda. This sort of initiatives are essential for the development of regions and countries. One can mention two theoretical approaches: the National/ Regional Systems of Innovation (Fagerberg and Srholec, 2008; Freeman, 1995; Lundvall, 2010; Vecchiato and Roveda, 2014) and the Triple Helix theory (Etzkowitz, 2003; Etzkowitz and Leydesdorff, 1996).

    According to the second approach, innovation represents the new practices adopted by governments, by means of which is possible to improve processes, services, products, and public policies (Fuglsang and Ronning, 2015; Tonelli et al., 2016; Stewart-Weeks and Kastelle, 2015).

    Whereas the first approach is more susceptible to consider the historical aspects of each country, which is crucial to comprehend the technological development as cultural change (see, for example, Isaksen and Trippl, 2016), the second approach is more susceptible to adopt the general view of the innovation theory. The broad scope of the theory of innovation focuses on the managerial capacity of transforming radical ideas or incremental improvements in something concrete, measured in terms of economic value, concerning aspects as adoption, diffusion, and evaluation (Christensen, Raynor and McDonald, 2015; Downs and Mohr, 1979; Kline and Rosenberg, 1986).

    In comparison with the classical theory of innovation, public innovation considers the public value as a measure of its success, beyond the financial metrics. The public value defines the central difference between public and private innovation (Bryson, Crosby and Bloomberg, 2014; Misuraca and Viscusi, 2015; Stoker, 2006). Despite the fact that the economic and efficiency indicators are not anymore the only significant components of the assessment of public administration, most of the practitioners still develop their analysis based exclusively on the managerial and economic approach, which suggests that there is lack of connections between the genuine analysis of public innovation and the managerial practices inside the governments (Bloch and Bugge, 2013).

    Considering the different perspectives, innovation in governance lacks the contextualization broadly applied by the science and technology critics. Most of the studies present innovation detached of the historical, cultural, and material aspects which create the conditions and shape the opportunities for practice.

    In this scenario, the path dependence and the actor-network theory can contribute to the understanding of innovation in the public sector. In terms of the historical trajectory, Voicu (2018) affirms that in spite of the similar pattern of economic and social development, countries differ with respect to their culture. For instance, some countries are more religious, others more supportive to gender equality, other more traditional, and these contexts interfere with economic development (Voicu, 2018).

    According to Voicu (2018, p. 17), aspects as 'modernization, history and social institutions combine and shape cultural norms'. More evidence support the statement that shared values shape the trajectory of technological and economic development (1). While economic development provides resources, culture provides a 'tool kit' of repertories of actions which are combined by individual actors in new ways (Swindler, 1986), leading to innovation.

    Based on that, we consider innovation as the materialization of creativity using strategy and skills learned from experience. This approach is connected with culture as a significant factor to explain innovation. Bason (2010), for example, shows that people and culture are key factors in defining the capacity or the structure needed to be an innovative public organization. However, the literature that considers the past as being relevant for shaping values and structures of the present is rather scarce.

    According to Greener (2002), path-dependence is not without problems. The incremental change is well explained, but the radical one is more difficult to accommodate. In situations of revolutionary change, when the practices are entirely replaced, it is more difficult to account for it. Path-dependence implicates a sort of historical determinism, once it presupposes that a 'number of contingencies happen to come together to allow us to change' (Greener, 2002, p. 615). From these limitations, Greener (2002) proposes the actor-network theory in order to gain additional insights in understanding the change processes, beyond the determinism of structures and its contingencies. Under ANT, history performs through processes of translation.

    Czarniawska (2009) considers the process of translation as crucial for ANT. The process of translation allows seeing, for example, the architecture and the formal agreements as the materialization of the past. However, Serres and Latour (1995) advert that this process does not run in a line of time. Any historical event is multitemporal and the processes of translation promote the connection between the most diverse elements (Serres and Latour, 1995).

    ANT opens new perspectives for understanding the process of shaping reality to explore...

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