Between diving, breathing and splashing: metaphors as lenses to inquire public innovation initiatives


  • Caio Werneck
  • Isabella Brandalise



metaphors, public sector innovation, government labs, design methodology, collective learning, boundary objects


This paper focuses on metaphors as a methodology to design and reflect on design-led initiatives in the public sector. We are drawing on the experience of a capacity-building program developed in 2020 by Enap (National School of Public Administration) in partnership with teams of the Brazilian federal government, in which we conducted four projects through the metaphor of a collective dive. When analyzing the effects of the projects through conversations with participants, we expanded the metaphor, understanding the reflections as breathing, the project conditions as bubbles and currents, and the results as splashes. We see splashes as variable yet rarely acknowledged outcomes of programs that aim to simultaneously foster public innovation and collective learning. In this paper, we present an example of metaphors acting as boundary objects, adding granularity and nuance to the investigation of public innovation initiatives, and identifying their possible effects in relation to institutional logics and complex structures.