Innovation has many variants – from new products and services that generate immediate value to transformative change that produces long-term value. For public service agencies, embracing the agile and service design methods of contemporary innovation to address structural reform has the potential to create enduring value. But it requires a managed approach to innovation where failure may not be an option.
Government agencies exist in a risk-averse world where political change and public scrutiny discourage risk. However, even when they don’t possess strong innovation capabilities themselves, leaders can still encourage enduring innovation with this four-step strategy:
1. Create the environment for success
Public service leaders should remove the barriers staff face when working to innovate by:
- Building internal capabilities with appropriate external support;
- Directly addressing data-sharing, linkage and protection issues;
- Surrounding your teams with a sound business and technical infrastructure; and
- Providing a framework or methodology that champions ideas that deliver long-term value.
Employees should focus on innovating around specific agency challenges as it relates to policy and service delivery rather than on efficiency gains or technology upgrades.
2. Build a culture centered on ethics
Embedding the ethical use of digital data within the culture of the agency is critical. And it goes beyond just creating an ethics framework. It ensures ethical considerations of personal data on a daily basis. This creates and sustains citizen trust and confidence – elements essential to the success of innovation initiatives.
3. Use risk for good
The innovation mantra of “fail fast” and “don’t penalise risk-takers” is not absolute. Set the boundaries for the right risk appetite and risk tolerance. In instances when innovation is needed to solve a particular problem, failure may not be an option if the results could be catastrophic. People will be inspired to innovate when they clearly understand how to mitigate risk and still achieve good outcomes.
4. Categorise innovation
Innovation requires a degree of structure. According to Accenture’s “Innovation with Purpose” research, the more successful agencies consistently use business case analysis to assess each innovation project and a return on investment (ROI) analysis to evaluate implementation. Establishing governance structures and processes to monitor performance and discontinue non-performing programs are key components of a successful framework.
What does it mean to be a leader in the digital age?
The digital age is a journey of discovery, disruption, opportunity, risks and challenges. These elements require extensive investigation, reflection, discussion and debate in the context of transforming public policy and service delivery. While leaders today are under constant pressure to be early adopters of technology-led change, the fundamental principles of public leadership and sound administrative practices remain relevant. Enduring innovation merely takes the long-term view of value creation while seeking to embrace the opportunities of the digital age.
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