Citizens expect more innovation from human services agencies. More than half of them say that they trust agencies with their data and believe agencies should use advanced technologies including analytics and AI to provide more individualised and relevant services[1]. The good news is human services leaders agree with citizens about the importance of innovation, with 90% of them saying that it’s an important part of their day-to-day roles[2]. Employees feel the same way.

So across customers, employees and leaders there’s ample evidence of the will to innovate.  But that desire has not, for many, translated into success to date. Those agencies that have succeeded in enabling innovation to thrive are creating the right conditions by focusing on how complementary elements like leadership, partnerships, new technologies, finance and skills come together. They understand that innovation is not a single programme, but a whole new approach that rewires the rulebook.

One critical element holding agencies back from innovating? The culture of their organisation. So what is the role that leaders need to play in breaking with the ingrained ways of thinking and legacy approaches that are preventing their organisations from operating in the new? They need to make a clear commitment to the importance of innovation to their organisation by incorporating explicit objectives and fostering a new approach that encourages and rewards risk-taking.

Mission Innovation

Of course, leaders recognise that innovation cannot simply be mandated from the top. To take hold, an innovation culture has to spread throughout the organisation. That means making sure that every employee understands the contribution they can make and feel empowered to try new approaches and experiment. In contrast to the way that agencies have traditionally operated, a new approach actively encourages them to find new and truly human ways to create and deliver exceptional customer experiences. A fail-fast approach means that if a new initiative does not work, employees won’t be penalised. Instead, they’ll be lauded for their willingness to innovate. By creating a safe place for innovation, leaders can help reinforce new thinking as part of every member of the workforce’s day-to-day activities.

With SkillsFuture, the Singapore government is demonstrating the importance of strong leadership and culture when driving innovation. SkillsFuture aims to support an advanced economy and inclusive society by empowering all individuals to take ownership of their skills development and lifelong learning. Bringing together government, industry, unions, and educational and training institutions, the programme is part of a $4.5 billion Industry Transformation Programme, which is developing roadmaps for 23 industries to address sector-specific issues and deepen partnerships throughout the ecosystem.

Building an Innovation DNA

Of course, innovation for its own sake is likely to result in a solution in search of a problem. That’s not going to achieve the outcomes that an agency needs or the experiences citizens want. So innovation has to be expressly connected to the agency’s mission, with programmes explicitly linked to address a specific problem or opportunity. Nine out of ten innovation leaders, for example, create a business case for every innovation programme and update it frequently[3]. One manifestation of this is in how vendors are selected, with leaders in innovation placing far more emphasis on quality and impact than they do on price[4].  In Australia, the Department of Jobs and Small Business has set out its vision for ‘More Jobs, Great Workplaces’, with a mission that aims to encourage innovation, setting out the expectation that its people should show courage to engage with new ideas, seek out new opportunities and knowledge, collaborate openly and take calculated risks, with an emphasis on prototyping, piloting and learning from mistakes.

Innovation Spaces

Where innovation takes place is also crucial. It should not be seen as a discrete activity restricted to specific labs and studios. While these are important, the broader organisation also has to become a ‘living lab’ where ideas flow freely between teams and departments. That’s reflected in the governance approach that leading innovators pursue. They ensure that the whole agency is engaged from top to bottom, removing the hierarchies and silos that can traditionally prevent new ideas and approaches from spreading across the organisation.

In the UK, the UK Department for Education (DfE) announced a two-year, £100 million innovation fund in 2014 to support 53 innovative and new approaches to transform outcomes for children in care. The initial success led to a second phase starting in 2016, with £300 million committed to 2020. Spring Consortium, which DfE commissioned as delivery partner for the programme, is working with project teams through every stage of the innovation process, testing new approaches, large and small, to rethink how the system operates.

As the examples here show, social services leaders are encouraging innovation across their organisations to achieve game-changing results for citizens. To find out more, take a look at our Innovation with Purpose report.

In my next blog, I’ll look at another key element of fostering innovation in social services agencies: the innovation ecosystem. In the meantime,  if you have any comments or questions about innovation culture, please get in touch.


[1] Accenture Public Service Global Omnibus Citizen Survey

[2] Accenture Intelligent Technologies in Public Service Research, 2016

[3] Accenture Research of 591 public sector respondents in 10 countries, October 2017

[4] Accenture Research of 591 public sector respondents in 10 countries, October 2017

Gaurav Gujral

Global Public Service Sustainabilty Lead

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