Innovation skills and leadership in Brazil’s public sector

By Kevin Richman, Innovation Specialist, Observatory for Public Sector Innovation, OECD

Today the OECD reports Innovation Skills and Leadership in Brazil’s Public Sector and The Innovation System of the Public Service of Brazil: An exploration of its past, present and future journey were launched by Marcos Bonturi, Director of Public Governance, OECD, at the Brazilian Public Sector Innovation Week.

The Innovation Skills and Leadership in Brazil’s Public Sector examines the role of public leaders in driving innovation in Brazil’s federal government, based on the OECD’s Recommendation on Public Service Leadership and Capability. The Government of Brazil is currently tackling a core leadership challenge: improving civil service capability, productivity and innovation. This, in turn, requires a reconsideration of the skills and competencies needed in the senior ranks of public administrations, as well as an analysis of the mechanisms that reinforce these skills and competencies, and an evaluation of the incentives to innovate.

It first looks at the skills leaders need to steer an innovative civil service that meets today’s needs and prepares for those of the future. Leadership competencies are clear statements about the skills and behaviours that a government expects from its leadership cadre. The OECD has identified three distinct but interconnected groups of leadership competencies for innovation, based on findings from interviews and workshops held in Brazil.

Identifying the necessary leadership skills is not enough to drive more innovation in the public service. Once the skills have been identified, OECD countries often introduce a systematic approach to ensure their supply (for example, through learning and development) and demand by those who appoint leaders and hold them accountable. This is usually done through the development of a senior civil service (SCS) system, which sets skills standards and processes to ensure appointees meet those standards.

However, developing the supply of such skills among potential SCS will not produce results if there is no demand for these skills. Strengthening demand requires engagement and buy-in at the highest political levels. It also requires addressing risk-averse incentive structures so that leaders feel empowered to use the innovation skills they have.

The report also examines the historical and current public sector leadership system and looks to the future. As Brazil is building the foundations for a more coherent and comprehensive approach to innovation, the study recommends that the federal administration also considers the leadership conditions to support its vision of an innovative state. The study provides a roadmap to further develop a senior civil service system by recommending short-, medium- and longer-term actions to:

  • Create a collaborative and unified view of innovative leadership
  • Ensure leadership training is responsive, effective, and available
  • Develop merit-based hiring practices that assess innovation competencies for management positions
  • Include innovation-oriented objectives in job profiles and performance assessments.

This study’s assessments provide a global picture of the areas that can support a more innovative and skilled leadership cadre in the Brazilian federal administration. Investing in building a skilled senior civil service would improve innovation and help Brazil successfully support a more effective and accountable federal public service.

The companion report, Innovation System of the Public Service of Brazil: An exploration of its past, present, and future journey, was produced by our colleagues in the Observatory of Public Sector Innovation team, and ran as a concurrent process.

If you would like to learn more about one or both of these reports, we will be holding a webinar on November 25 at 15:00 Paris time/ 11:00 Brasilia time. You can register for the event here.

Further reading

OECD Recommendation on Public Service Leadership and Capability
Skills for a High Performing Civil Service
OECD work on Public Employment and Management
OECD Observatory for Public Sector Innovation

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