The COVID-19 pandemic has shown how important public sector capacities and capabilities are in terms of reacting to crises, and re-configuring existing policies and implementation practices. Prior to the pandemic, policy makers were increasingly turning their attention to challenge-driven innovation policies in order to tackle climate emergencies and other ‘wicked’ societal challenges. Such a ‘normative turn’ also assumes the existence of what can be called dynamic capabilities in the public sector. This paper offers a new synthesis of how to conceptualise dynamic capabilities in the public sector. The paper synthesises existing state capacity, public sector innovation capacity and dynamic capabilities literature. Using three brief case studies (the UK’s Government Digital Service, the city of Barcelona and Sweden’s Vinnova), the paper discusses the origins and constitutive elements (sense-making, connecting, shaping) of dynamic capabilities. The paper also discusses how dynamic capabilities could be assessed.
working paper 8/2022