Move fast and fix things: How to be a public entrepreneur - RSA

Move fast and fix things: How to be a public entrepreneur


  • Community and place-based action
  • Public services

“Move fast and break things” was famously Mark Zuckerberg’s credo for entrepreneurs. “Unless you are breaking stuff,” he said in 2009, “you are not moving fast enough.” This phrase came to epitomise the Silicon Valley start-up culture that has redefined modern life in the last decade. But while the private sector has been profoundly changed by the creative destruction of new tech, the public sphere still struggles to find ways to keep pace with disruptive innovation.

But as Marianna Mazzucato and others attest: at its best the public sector is a force for good, taking proactive action to solve public problems. This report counters the long-held caricature of the state as a slow, lumbering, bureaucratic machine and sets out to find the people, processes and practices in government that are “moving fast, and fixing things” and demonstrating a new kind of public entrepreneurship.

This report describes the findings from a six-month inquiry where we applied the RSA’s model of change “think like a system, act like an entrepreneur” to the challenges of procuring and scaling innovation through government. Through qualitative workshops, deep dives into case studies around the UK and a global practice review, the RSA Lab investigated approaches to public procurement of innovation using the Small Business Research Initiative (SBRI) and unearthed examples where practitioners have acted entrepreneurially to enable the success of enterprise innovations.

Using this qualitative research, this paper makes the case for the public entrepreneur – explaining the forces that are driving the need for a new type of government actor and investigating the ways to foster a culture that supports appropriate risk and innovation. The questions answered in this report are: What does it mean to be a public entrepreneur? How can public institutions set direction for public money? What cultures, mindsets and competencies are needed to act entrepreneurially? What is required to shift public sector cultures and overcome immunity to innovation? And how can we use public procurement tools to deliver public value?

One question that continually arises for public procurement professionals is this: can a true balance be found between economic and social value? The insights from this research suggest so, and we hope that the recommendations found in this report are a means of catalysing innovation for public good. 

Download the report: Move fast and fix things: How to be  a public entrepreneur (PDF, 1.1 MB)

This report was produced in partnership with Innovate UK


Picture of Rowan Conway
Former Director of Development

Picture of Luke Timmons
Senior Researcher

Picture of Ian Burbidge
Former RSA Head of Innovation and Change