Developing People Organisations and Communities

How to innovate in public services – set the tone

I was preparing for  a presentation and discovered this blog post from 7 years ago. It still applies. Creating the right conditions in the public realm is a pre-condition for innovation to actually happen.

Is Government the place for innovation?

Innovation in the public domain needs better conditions to make better things happen: readiness, reward, involvement and transparency


The question ‘Is Government the place for innovation?’ was put out across the government blogosphere. The short answer is ‘yes’ as well ‘it has to be’ and ‘how’.

The more critical question is ‘how do we make government innovative’. If it is not a place for innovation then we may as well sell up, shut up shop and leave it to the perils of the market to determine our public services fate.  Instead we need to create the conditions in which innovation can take place.  In the swings and roundabouts of the free markets, measuring and capturing innovation is done through the rewards of capturing markets and the financial penalty of business failure. It is futile for the public sector to ape business behaviours as these conditions simply do not apply.

Instead it needs to create the “conditions for innovation”.  These include:

1) – A readiness to change and seek better solutions to problems

2) – Rewarding people for experimentation and doing things differently, otherwise the public sector cannot learn and discover better ways of doing things let alone implement them across the board

3) – Involving all the players who can make a difference and design better public service solutions.  That means citizens, the frontline staff, managers and policy makers.  Otherwise knowledge, capability, understanding and ‘do-ability’ simply will not be maximized.

4) – Be transparent open and honest and put in place systems that incentivise these behaviours. Otherwise excessive caution and protective behaviours will continue to prevail.  The public sector needs to be allowed to try and fail as well as do different and do better.

The public sector needs to be bold and unpredictable especially where it is clearly not making progress and meeting challenging outcomes (reducing imprisonment, combating obesity and enabling all children to attain at school are but three examples).  Now may not seem like the best time for bold innovation, experimentation and change but, as resources diminish and a minimal state sets in, it is probably more necessary than ever to do different and do better!


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