Alan G. Robinson and Dean M. Schroeder “Practical Innovation in Government”

Alan G. Robinson and Dean M. Schroeder’s new book is aptly titled Practical Innovation in Government: How Front-Line Leaders are Transforming Public-Sector Organizations. In the read, one essentially finds what can best be summarized as a love letter to the numerous possibilities of the reorganization of government. While many books in this nonfiction subcategory adopt a coarser, more appropriately subdued and even dryly sardonic intonation, Robinson and Schroeder keep the nature of the text intriguingly upbeat.


The possibilities they discover lead the way, not the potential ramifications. “…high performers (are) achieving their impressive levels of efficiency and service in a surprising way. We had expected to find most improvement being driven in a top-down fashion, perhaps by middle or upper managers, as is generally the case in the business world. Although we did find plenty of examples of management-driven (government) programs, they were the marginal and low performers—their performance was spotty and their lifespans were often short. Some were so short-lived that we were unable to study them directly.

Much of our information about them came from postmortems. We found ourselves interviewing, and commiserating with, the people involved after their programs had been terminated,” Robinson and Schroeder write. “The successful CI (Continuous Improvement) efforts we studied were quite different. What stood out was that the lion’s share of the improvement activity was taking place on the front lines. The primary champions of change were low-level managers and supervisors. They had created units with strong local cultures of improvement. Bit by bit, through large numbers of small, highly targeted ideas, their units relentlessly increased performance. These front-line leaders, not their higher- level managers, were the real heroes of their organizations’ innovation stories.”

The message of Practical Innovation in Government: How Front-Line Leaders are Transforming Public-Sector Organizations is clear. Robinson and Schroeder know how to pilot the narrative, while never making things feel dry. There’s a lot of interesting tricks they’re able to employ within a clear, concise framework that keeps the reading experience fast-paced, and continuously engaging. “After reading this book, the prospect of creating a front-line–driven CI program may seem a bit daunting, particularly if you are a low-level manager in charge of a small group,” Robinson and Schroeder state. “Certainly, you have a lot to learn, but this should not stop you from getting started. It is usually not very difficult to make significant progress relatively quickly, especially if your group has not previously engaged in any serious front-line–driven improvement effort. Typically, there is a lot of low-hanging fruit because many processes and work practices have never been examined carefully and are ripe for improvement.”


Like I said, upbeat. The preceding passage is a critical indicator not only of what forms the bedrocks of Robinson and Schroeder’s convictions. It shows the warm, evocative tonality that I found myself so enamored with. It’s a really effective, presentational tool, and really elevates the piece.

Clay Burton