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Research topic | McKinsey Center for Government

Innovation in an ever-changing world

Demographic, economic, and technological shifts are creating an innovation imperative for government. The McKinsey Center for Government (MCG) combines multidisciplinary perspectives to explore why and how innovation is transforming the way government interacts with citizens, civil society, and the private sector.

In both the developed and developing world, many governments face a number of urgent challenges—one of which is that the rising demand for services is running headlong into the reality of limited resources. In many nations, demographic shifts are creating increased demand for public services like health care, pensions, and urban infrastructure. At the same time, natural resources are becoming scarcer; public budgets are shrinking; and citizens, now accustomed to new technologies and constant connectivity, have higher expectations as to the speed and quality of public services.

The emerging answer—from various places across the globe—is bold, rapid management innovation. Public-sector innovation can reduce costs, raise productivity, and improve the public’s opinion of government. McKinsey research shows that some of the most cutting-edge innovations have come from the developing world: governments that believe they have no choice but to take bold risks. Others have come from developed nations, which feel more pressure than ever to do more and better with less. Their disruptive moves are transforming the 21st-century state.

Our expertise

Based on McKinsey’s on-the-ground experience working with government agencies worldwide, insights from our global partners, and our ongoing research, MCG has gathered unique perspectives on a number of trends in government innovation:

  • Providing simpler processes and greater convenience

    Innovative governments are moving away from specialized agencies and discrete services toward more streamlined, citizen-centric processes that focus on optimizing the user experience. Examples include facilities that cater to a wide range of citizens’ needs by housing the customer-service divisions of multiple agencies, e-government portals that allow citizens to access data and services online instead of at a physical location, and mobile applications.

  • Tapping new sources of information when shaping policies and services

    Innovative governments are encouraging citizens to help shape ideas and priorities for public services. For example, some agencies are crowd-sourcing the development of new ideas, while others are gathering user feedback in the early stages of policy development.

  • Sharing responsibility in delivery

    Citizens, private companies, and civil society are playing an increasingly important role in executing public policies and services, becoming “delivery partners” to the government (for example, via open data portals that enable citizens to monitor government performance and develop new applications for public use).

Government leaders can either create a dedicated space for innovation or enable innovation across their entire administration or agency. Through our research and experience, we have identified the ingredients necessary to fostering innovation, regardless of the organizational model.

Research and collaboration

McKinsey’s public-sector practitioners are publishing a series of articles on broadly applicable innovations in government. The series—based on field reporting and interviews with government officials, senior executives, academics, and nongovernmental organizations—presents a collection of snapshots that capture the people, places, and management strategies driving this wave of change. The project does not endorse political choices but rather examines sustained, significant initiatives. We invite interested parties to nominate countries, trends, or innovators to feature in our series.

Together with contributing partners, such as the Overseas Development Institute and Princeton University’s Innovations for Successful Societies program, our experts are building a repository of research and case studies on how governments have tackled their most complex challenges through innovation. The Innovation Navigator (currently in beta release) is an interactive online database that allows users to explore examples of bold ideas, spanning both developed and developing economies and nearly all government functions. We invite users to contribute case studies and use the Navigator to share knowledge with the global community of innovators.

MCG fosters dialogue among innovators by convening some of the best thinkers from around the world. We recently co-hosted a conference—Challenges of Government: The Innovation Imperative—with the University of Oxford’s Blavatnik School of Government. We also share our research at global events and conferences around the world, including Government Executive’s Excellence in Government and the Open Government Partnership’s annual meeting.

Featured insights


Innovation in government: Brazil

September 2012—To use public money more efficiently and to help deter corruption, Brazil’s government is disclosing detailed information about federal spending—and giving citizens a clear view of their tax dollars in action.more


Innovation in government: India and Estonia

June 2012—A number of countries are creating digital identities for their citizens, in part to improve the delivery of public services. India and Estonia are leading the pack.more

Unleashing governments innovation mojo An interview with the US chief technology officer

Unleashing government’s ‘innovation mojo’: An interview with the US chief technology officer

June 2012—Todd Park explains how he has partnered technology with open-data initiatives to tap into the many talented innovators and entrepreneurs across the government.more


Innovation in government: Indonesia and Colombia

February 2012—To become more responsive and effective, governments are experimenting with the way they monitor services (Indonesia) and work with the private sector to expand the economy (Colombia).more


Innovation in government: Kenya and Georgia

September 2011—Two developing countries show how a willingness to take bold risks can make government services better and cheaper.more



innovation navigatorInnovation navigator

Innovation Navigator

This interactive Web tool highlights government solutions from across the globe. Its aim is to make it easier for all stakeholders to learn about the people, places, and management strategies driving government innovation.

article | McKinsey on SocietySocial innovation

Focus on: Social Innovation

A collection of articles showcases McKinsey’s insights into how governments, philanthropists, companies, nongovernmental organizations, social entrepreneurs, and social investors drive social change by being more innovative and strategic.