In 16th century Europe, people feared Belphegor – the daemon of innovation (pictured left). This prince of Hell cursed people will new inventions, encouraging them to become lazier.

Even in 18th century America, innovation was not judged to be a good thing. President George Washington allegedly warned on his death bed: “Beware of innovation in politics”

Thank goodness times have changed. Officials are now constantly told about the importance of being innovative – but what does that mean?

Simply, it means that the challenges facing governments today cannot be tackled by traditional government structures and approaches. There is too much complexity in a globalised world. New technologies are creating massive new expectations for civil servants to meet. And vast amounts of data, combined with computing power, can create a greater focus on evidence when making new policies.

So governments are creating new units with new approaches to policy making. Singapore has its Strategic Policy Unit and PS21; the UK has the What Works Network; Malaysia has PEMANDU; South Korea has the Seoul Innovation Bureau; Hong Kong has its Efficiency Unit; Jakarta has its Smart Cities Unit. The list is long and exciting. All of these units are piloting new policies and projects that could hugely improve government services.

New tools are also emerging. Take behavioural economics, a methodology pioneered by the UK’s ‘nudge’ unit. Through small tweaks in forms and processes, government can achieve big results. Tweaking the design of tax forms hugely increased the percentage of people paying their taxes on time (the 16% increase in compliance could equate to billions of dollars).

Equally, government can now pilot projects in exciting new ways – such as Social Impact Bonds being trialled in Australia. Or in some cases, model projects based on predictions of future citizen needs. Certainly, in Singapore, the Risk Assessment and Horizon Scanning Programme is doing just that. From drones delivering medicine to semantic analysis of social media, there are a huge number of exciting projects occurring across Asia. GovInsider will be covering them.

But that is only half of the story. There is also increasing pressure on government to support private sector innovation. Many countries are competing to start the next Silicon Valley. And as the economist Mariana Mazzucato writes, that requires a totally new approach from government. “Getting governments to think big about innovation is not just about throwing more taxpayer money at more activities. It requires fundamentally reconsidering the traditional role of the state in the economy.

Specifically, that means empowering governments to envision a direction for technological change and invest in that direction. It means abandoning the shortsighted way public spending is usually evaluated. It means ending the practice of insulating the private sector from the public sector. And it means figuring out ways for governments and taxpayers to reap some of the rewards of public investment, instead of just the risks.”

As officials trial new approaches, from Singapore and Israel’s world-beating venture capital arms to the UK’s network of CATAPULTs, GovInsider will be covering these in detail. And as delivery units use new approaches, such as Malaysia using management techniques pioneered in car factories to transform healthcare, we’ll cover that as well.

But we need your help. After all, the introduction to this piece was discovered on Twitter. If you have a story, you can tweet us (@GovInsider) or email me: Joshua@GovInsider.Asia.