Creativity in local government: Definition and determinants

Published date01 September 2017
AuthorPeter M. Kruyen,Marieke van Genugten
Date01 September 2017
Creativity in local government: Definition and
Peter M. Kruyen | Marieke van Genugten
Radboud University Nijmegen, Institute for
Management Research, Nijmegen, The
Peter M. Kruyen, Radboud University
Nijmegen, Institute for Management Research,
PO Box 9102, 6500 HC Nijmegen, The
In current thinking about public service improvement, civil servant
creativity plays an important role. Using the results of 43 semi-
structured interviews, we assessed the degree to which our theo-
retical knowledge about creativitybased primarily on business
researchmatches the insights of managers in local government.
Respondents considered employee creativity to be important,
butin contrast to the literatureunderstood creativity as the act
of trying out new things to better deal with specific problems at
hand instead of developing new ideas potentially applicable to a
wider context. As such, respondents did not see creativity as the
main precondition for innovation. In line with the literature, there
is little consistency across respondents about individual- and
context-level determinants of creativity. Lastly, respondents put
forward several factors that have received little attention in the lit-
erature but are particularly relevant in understanding differences
in work-related creativity in the context of local government.
In this article, we investigate the characteristics of work-related creativity in the context of local government
bureaucracies. Even though the need for creative civil servants was already expressed in ancient China (Cropley and
Cropley 2010, p. 302), only a handful of scholars have empirically studied creativity in government organizations
(e.g., Heinzen 1994; Rangarajan 2008; Feeney and DeHart-Davis 2009; Denhardt et al. 2013). In contrast, work-
place creativity has been extensively studied in business contexts. Illustratively, the International Handbook of Crea-
tivity (Kaufman and Sternberg 2006), promoted as: ‘…a comprehensive scholarly handbook on creativity from the
most respected psychologists, researchers, and educators(Cambridge University Press 2010) focuses exclusively on
private sector organizations (see West and Farr 1990; Kaufman and Sternberg 2006; Mumford 2012).
Given the large body of knowledge on workplace creativity obtained in business contexts, it is tempting to
argue that we do not need any specific research on creativity in government settings. The contrary is true, however.
First, considerable uncertainty still exists about the importance and impact of potential determinants in the extant
literature (Anderson et al. 2014). Second, there is an ongoing debate about the similarities and differences between
DOI: 10.1111/padm.12332
Public Administration. 2017;95:825841. © 2017 John Wiley & Sons Ltd 825
public and private sector organizations and their implications for organizational behaviour (Rainey and Bozeman
2000; De Vries et al. 2016). Third, nearly all studies on organizational creativity are carried out using a deductive,
quantitative research design (exceptions include Amabile 1988 and Heinzen 1994). The dominance of deductive
research runs the risk of a misalignment between scholarsand practitionersunderstanding of work-related creativ-
ity as well as the limited practical value of research findings.
In this article, we follow an inductive approachalbeit informed by t heoretical insightsto obtai n a sound
understanding of the concept of work-related creativity and its determinants in government organizations. In par-
ticular, we conducted semi-structured interviews with 43 managers in 26 municipalities in the Netherlands to
assess the degree to which ou r theoretical knowledge ab out creativitybased primarily on business research
matches the insights of managers in local gover nment. We interviewed m anagers as we expected t hem to have
more extensive insight s about the different aspe cts of creativity than no n-managerial employ ees due to their
duties and obligations .
We focus on the Dutch local government level as innovations are especially warranted at this level. The Nether-
lands can be classified as a decentralized unitary state. In this uniform governmental system, municipalitieswith an
average population of 43,536 inhabitantshave their own jurisdiction and autonomy. Their decision latitude is,
however, constrained by the central and provincial authorities by virtue of statutory rules. Dutch local governments
are responsible for a broad range of tasks which have increased substantially in recent years due to the decentrali-
zation of tasks in the domain of youth care, long-term care, and income support. These new responsibilities, contin-
ued budget cuts, and the call for offering individualized, capacitating services (Kuhlmann and Bouckaert 2016) call
for innovation at this government level. Since creativity plays an important role in developing innovations (see Ama-
bile 1996a), we expect creativity to be a particularly relevant topic in Dutch municipalities.
This article is structured as follows. First, we present a theoretical overview of work-related creativity based on
a review of the extant literature. We integrate the psychologically oriented creativity literature with insights from
the fields of innovation research, organizational studies, and public administration. After describing our methodol-
ogy, we present the main findings of the semi-structured interviews. In the last part of the article, we discuss the
implications of our findings for public administration scholars and creativity researchers.
2.1 |Work-related creativity defined
In the extant literature, work-related creativity is defined as an employees ability to come up with new and useful
solutions to improve work-related practices (see Amabile 1996b; Mayer 1999, p. 449; Mumford et al. 2012, p. 4).
Creative ideas may be generated by employees in any job and at any level of the organization (Oldham and Baer
2012, p. 388). Workplace creativity is regarded as being different from organizational innovativeness and organiza-
tional change (Woodman et al. 1993). A creative idea must be implemented to become an innovation. However,
organizations may also innovate by implementing ideas that were developed elsewhere. Similarly, being innovative
means to change, but only a small fraction of organizational changes may be a consequence of creativity and
The literature proposes several schemes along which a creative solution can be classified (Mumford 2012). First,
the type of solution that an employee proposes (e.g., a new tangible product, service, or administration procedure).
Second, the degree to which a creative solution differs from existing work practices (see Sternberg 1999; Beghetto
and Kaufman 2007). That is, some creative ideas may be closely related to existing practices, whereas other pro-
posed products imply a paradigm shift. Third, the usefulness of the proposed solution. Whereas some creative ideas
are potentially useful to the creator only, other creations may be of value to a department, or even beneficial to a
whole sector.

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