Innovation values

Core values words in vintage wooden letterpress printing blocks isolated on white

What are innovation values?

Innovation values are principles that embody an organisation’s attitudes and beliefs about innovation. They can underpin an organisation’s approach to the innovation process and express what the organisation ‘feels’ towards innovation. Some organisations (e.g. see examples provided) choose to formalise these values in written form.
Empowering Change: Fostering Innovation in the Australian Public Service noted that in fostering a culture of innovation, agencies can consider how innovation fits with their broader corporate values. Such values can be beneficial if they are clear about the level of permission that staff have to be innovative.
Innovation values will vary between organisations as there are different priorities and relationships with stakeholders and clients, and different traditions and contexts that will affect the organisation’s innovation methodology and aims.

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How do innovation values help the innovation process?

Stakeholders, external parties and new staff may find it difficult to know the attitudes and approach to innovation that an organisation takes. Stated values on innovation can give people both inside and outside of an organisation greater certainty about how an organisation works on innovation and how welcoming it is of innovation. The values can help inform the norms and expectations around innovation in the agency. They can underpin the innovation culture.
Innovation values will likely support the innovation process the most in the generation and selection of ideas.

  • Idea generation (finding, adapting or creating the ideas) – Values can make it easier for staff to know how welcoming the agency will be to their ideas, possibly what sort of ideas the agency is looking for, and what the reception will be when they do propose something new
  • Idea selection (picking which ideas to use) – Values can help emphasise the importance of being open to new and different ideas. They can help those doing the selection by providing an underlying philosophy of what sort of ideas will receive buy-in by the organisation
  • Idea implementation (putting the ideas into practice) – Values are unlikely to affect the sustaining phase of the innovation process
  • Sustaining ideas (keeping the ideas going) – Values are less likely to impact on the sustaining of ideas, though they may assist if they draw a link between the role of innovation and the purpose of the organisation
  • Idea diffusion (spreading the ideas and the insights about them) – Values can also help in diffusing ideas by emphasising the value of sharing innovation success (and failure) stories.

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What do innovation values involve?

Innovation values involve an articulation of what the organisation believes about innovation. It may refer to the underlying philosophy, beliefs, specific expected behaviours/attitudes, or even specific processes relating to innovation in the organisation.
For the values to be meaningful and integrated with the organisation’s operations and culture, they will need to be supported by the leadership of the agency, reflected in expectations about performance and behaviour, and reinforced by processes.

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Potential Problems

Some possible problems that may be encountered in introducing or managing innovation values in an organisation are:

  • Values vs Behaviour – There may be potential problems if there is a contrast between the stated norms of the organisation and the observed behaviour. If innovation values are not supported and realised in the operations of the organisation, then the values may act to undermine support for innovation rather than encourage it
  • Values vs Process – Similarly, if processes do not support the values, then the values may be seen as rhetoric rather than aspirational.

A common pitfall of innovation values is for people to expect innovation values to be embedded into an organisation as soon as it is written down (or perhaps circulated in a memo to staff).  Implementing and bedding down any value will take time and patience so do not be discouraged if you do not see instant results. Adoption of values requires people to come on board and this will take time and require guidance from innovation champions.

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Desirable Features of Innovation Values

The exact nature of any organisational innovation values will need to reflect any existing broader values. They may be incorporated in those higher level values or be an explicit sub-set to reflect a particular emphasis on innovation.
The values should reflect the context of the organisation and embody what is believed about innovation, as well as what is hoped for innovation. If the values are introduced to help change or create a new approach to innovation, then this should be backed by strategies to help staff make the transition.

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The following is a checklist of issues that might be considered before introducing innovation values.

Prior to Introduction

  • Do the proposed values fit with any existing unstated philosophy about innovation in the organisation?
  • If the values are aspirational, and do not reflect current behaviours and attitudes towards innovation, are there strategies in place to help bring the organisational culture and behaviours towards these new goals?
  • Do the values have the buy-in of the agency’s Executive? Do they support and emphasise these values in how they approach innovation?


  • Are the leaders of the agency reinforcing and demonstrating the values in their work and how they interact with other staff?
  • Do the policies and practices of the organisation reflect the values?
  • Is there a process for managing any conflicting tensions that might occur between the values and day-to-day operations?
  • Are the values reflected in performance management? (e.g. if staff act in accordance with the values, is that reflected in their performance assessment)

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Further Reading

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Innovation Values Examples

South Africa – Centre for Public Sector Innovation 1


In view of the fast changes in the Public Sector environment, the continuous introduction of new technologies and changes in citizens’ expectations, our department declares that innovation shall rule our service delivery and actions. Henceforth:

  1. All public servants shall embrace, encourage and nurture innovation at all times. Every decision they make will take into consideration how that decision will affect the innovativeness of the department.
  2. Public servants shall adopt more creative behaviour – through training if need be – and demonstrate their creativity to other public servants and to the general public.
  3. Public service institutions shall communicate in every possible way the importance of innovation and innovation goals. Such communication shall be both internal and external and target employees and the general public.
  4. Public sector institutions shall establish a reasonable budget for implementing radical innovative ideas. The return on the investment of implementing those ideas shall take into consideration learning value and adherence to the principles of Batho Pele.
  5. Managers shall ensure that team members have time to be creative and understand that being creative, which leads to innovation, is a critical component of their job responsibilities.
  6. Realising that innovation is the future, public servants shall all learn to greet new ideas with open arms and consider the innovative potential of those ideas. Rather than criticise new ideas, as public servants have done in the past, public servants shall challenge those who propose new ideas to improve them and to make them more innovative.
  7. No employee shall ever be reprimanded for sharing an idea with others in the department, even if the idea seems preposterous. There must be an understanding that one employee being scolded for sharing a silly idea can do irreparable damage to the public institution’s innovativeness. Employees shall be rewarded for their innovative ideas.
  8. All public servants shall adopt an idea-management process and system in order to encourage, capture and evaluate innovative ideas from colleagues.
  9. Project teams shall be filled with a variety of people from various divisions in order to ensure breadth of creative thought and innovative solutions in all projects.
  10. All public servants shall take great pride in their innovativeness and strive to improve it daily.

MindLab 2

MindLab’s mission is to involve citizens and businesses in developing new public solutions. It is an agency with the Danish Government.
Values in MindLab
We challenge traditional thinking and bureaucracy
Our communication is inspiring and straightforward
We challenge each others thinking
We experiment with the objective in mind

Google’s “Ten things we know to be true” 3

  1. Focus on the user and all else will follow.
  2. It’s best to do one thing really, really well.
  3. Fast is better than slow.
  4. Democracy on the web works.
  5. You don’t need to be at your desk to need an answer.
  6. You can make money without doing evil.
  7. There’s always more information out there.
  8. The need for information crosses all borders.
  9. You can be serious without a suit.
  10. Great just isn’t good enough.

[1] This material is not covered by the Creative Commons licence or Commonwealth Copyright. From Ideas That Work: The Public Sector Innovation Journal 2009 accessed at

[2] This material is not covered by the Creative Commons licence or Commonwealth Copyright. From MindLab “Strategy and Values” accessed at May 2011]

[3] This material is not covered by the Creative Commons licence or Commonwealth Copyright. From “Our philosophy: Ten things we know to be true” accessed at May 2011]