Published on 8 November 2023
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Social R&D: the next phase of public service reform?

With deteriorating performance in public services, there is a growing need for reform that combines innovation methods with social goals to create better public services.

Interest in public service reform is re-emerging, driven by growing concerns about the deteriorating state of services such as hospitals, adult social care, courts and prisons. Current performance has declined in most areas, long-term outcomes are adrift and people’s experiences can be frustrating and negative. But while the case for reform is strong, it is less clear what type of reform should be used.

This policy brief looks back at recent approaches to public service reform and, in particular, at ‘New Public Management’ (NPM). It offers a critique of these approaches and argues that their underlying assumptions need to be refreshed. Drawing on theories and practice such as social innovation, human development and participation, the brief makes the case for public service reform that applies innovation methods and addresses social goals.

It also draws this together in a set of potential assumptions and principles for public service reform which can be characterised as “social R&D”: innovation through people, enabled by relationships, knowledge and technology.

Policy brief: Social R&D: the next phase of public service reform?

Blog: Social R&D: the next phase of public service reform?

News: Revitalizing public services: a call for social R&D in public service reform


Halima Khan

Affiliated Researcher

Halima Khan has worked in national, regional and local government and at Nesta, the UK’s innovation agency for social good. Her interests are in approaches to public service innovation which...

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