“We don’t feel like we are part of the project”

An analysis of tensions in the development and implementation of a public sector innovation project in Norway





Public service innovation, collaborative innovation, actor-network theory, social enterprise


Some of the extant literature on collaborative public sector innovation seems to assume that collaboration per se implies a positive outcome. Recent research, however, has demonstrated that innovation processes may take different shapes and trajectories depending on, for example, the collaborating actors’ diverging (or converging) perceptions of the given situation. In this article, we seek to contribute to understanding the nature of potential challenges in public sector innovation processes. We interviewed seven key actors involved in developing and implementing a new introduction programme for refugees in a municipality in Norway. The interviews explored how the innovation process evolved and how the different actors experienced their participation in the process. In this article, we use the classic four ‘moments of translation’ approach proposed by Callon (1986) to shed light on the main tensions that arose for the project team in the 18 months after the project was launched. These challenges related to why the innovation was realised, how such an innovation should be operationalised, for whom the innovation was targeted and whose innovation project the project was initially. In conclusion, we argue that to address the tensions that may arise in any collaborative project, innovation leaders must establish a ‘structure for collaboration’ that includes a space in which to acknowledge and potentially solve emerging challenges.


Braun, V., & Clarke, V. (2006). Using thematic analysis in psychology. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 3, 77-101. https://doi.org/10.1191/1478088706qp063oa

Braun, V., & Clarke, V. (2019). Reflecting on reflexive thematic analysis. Qualitative Research in Sport, Exercise and Health, 11(4), 589-597. https://doi.org/10.1080/2159676X.2019.1628806

Bredal, A., & Orupabo, J. (2014). Drammen som introduksjonsarena. En gjennomgang av kommunenes introduksjon- Og kvalifiseringsarbeid for nyankomne innvandrere (Rapport 2014:04). Institutt for Samfunnsforskning. http://www.samfunnsforskning.no/Publikasjoner/Rapporter/2014/2014-004

Callon, M. (1986). Some elements of sociology of translation: Domestication of the scallops and the fishermen of St. Brieuc Bay. In J. Law (Ed.), Power, action and belief: A new sociology of knowledge (pp. 196-229). Routledge & Kegan Paul.https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-954X.1984.tb00113.x

Damanpour, F., & Schneider, M. (2009). Characteristics of innovation and innovation adoption in public organizations: Assessing the role of managers. Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, 19, 495-522. https://doi.org/10.1093/jopart/mun021

Djuve, A. B., & Kavli, H. C. (2015). Ti års erfaringer. En kunnskapsstatus om introduksjonsprogram og norskopplæring for innvandrere. Fafo.

Djuve, A. B., & Kavli, H. C. (2018). Refugee integration policy the Norwegian way-Why good ideas fail and bad ideas prevail. Transfer: European Review of Labour and Research, 25(1), 25-42. https://doi.org/10.1177/1024258918807135

Fuglsang, L. (2010). Bricolage and invisible innovation in public service. Journal of Innovation Economics & Management, 5(1), 67-87. https://doi.org/10.3917/jie.005.0067

Gray, B., & Ren, H. (2014). The impotence of joint schemas and brokers in promoting collaboration for innovation. In C. Ansell & J. Torfing (Eds.), Public innovation through collaboration and design (pp. 125-147). Routledge.

Hartley, J. (2005). Innovation in governance and public services: Past and present. Public Money & Management, 25(1).

Hartley, J., Sørensen, E., & Torfing, J. (2013). Collaborative innovation: A viable alternative to marked competition and organizational entrepreneurship. Public Administration Review, 73(6), 821-830. https://doi.org/10.1111/puar.12136

Kattel, R., Cepilovs, A., Drechsler, W., Kalvet, T., Lember, V., & Tõnurist, P. (2013). Can we measure public sector innovation? A literature review (LIPSE Working Paper No. 2). Erasmus University, Rotterdam.

Kavli, H. C., Hagelund, A., & Bråthen, M. (2007). Med rett til å lære og plikt til å delta. En evaluering av introduksjonsordningen for nyankomne flyktninger og innvandrere (Fafo Rapport 2007:34). http://www.fafo.no/media/com_netsukii/20034.pdf

Magnussen, S. (2016). The power of enthusiasm in collaborative innovation: A case study of the power of individual action in the establishment of a local medical centre in Norway. Nordic Journal of Social Research, 7, 31-45. https://doi.org/10.7577/njsr.2100

Meijer, A. (2014). From hero-innovators to distributed heroism: An in-depth analysis of the role of individuals in public sector innovation. Public Management Review, 16(2), 40-54. https://doi.org/10.1080/14719037.2013.806575

Ministry of Education and Research. (2019). Integration through knowledge: The Government's Integration Strategy. https://www.regjeringen.no/no/dokumenter/integrering-gjennom-kunnskap/id2617246/

Myklebø, S. (2019). Arbeidsretting som innovasjonsidé og praksis: Oversettelse og samarbeid i introduksjonprogrammet for flyktninger [PhD Thesis, Inland Norway University of Applied Sciences]. Brage: http://hdl.handle.net/11250/2631212

Osborne, S. P., & Brown, L. (2011). Innovation, public policy and public services delivery in the UK: The word that would be king? Public Administration, 89(4), 1335-1350. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-9299.2011.01932.x

Røvik, K. A. (2007). Trender og Translasjoner. Ideer som former det 21. århundrets organisasjon. Universitetsforlaget.

Sørensen, E., & Torfing, J. (2011). Enhancing collaborative innovation in the public sector. Administration and Society, 43(8), 842-868. https://doi.org/10.1177/0095399711418768

Torfing, J. (2016). Collaborative innovation in the public sector. Georgetown University Press.

Torfing, J., Sørensen, E., & Fotel, T. (2009). Democratic anchorage of infrastructural governance networks: The case of the Femern Belt Forum. Planning Theory, 8(3), 282-308. https://doi.org/10.1177/1473095209104827

Windrum, P. (2008). Innovation and entrepreneurship in public services. In P. Windrum & P. Koch (Eds.), Innovation in public sector services: Entrepreneurship, creativity and management (pp. 3-20). Edward Elgar. https://doi.org/10.4337/9781848441545

Empty seats in a row, with a notebook and pen placed on the front seat. Picture by Pavel Danilyuk from Pexels.com




How to Cite

Sætre, H. S., & Munkejord, M. C. (2021). “We don’t feel like we are part of the project”: An analysis of tensions in the development and implementation of a public sector innovation project in Norway. Nordic Journal of Social Research, 12(1), 201–220. https://doi.org/10.7577/njsr.4056