Imagine you work in tax in a country that’s collected tax in the same way for as long as anyone can remember. But you have a new, innovative idea. It will be fairer, more responsive to external factors, and decision-making will be evidence-based. It will also use technology in a new way that will augment human decisions and increase transparency. You bring the idea to your boss, and they give you the go ahead.

Oh, and if you’re wrong, you’ll probably be executed and/or mummified.

So what was this innovation? The Nilometer – a tool that was used to predict harvests (and taxes) based on the rise and fall of the Nile. Different levels meant different harvests, and the Nilometer allowed the Egyptians to set taxes accordingly.

Even though the consequences of failure are slightly less ‘final’ today than they were in Ancient Egypt, it’s still often said that innovation is hard in public sector. But has innovation really become harder? Public sector organizations are, in fact, primed for innovation. Why? They have two characteristics which guarantee it – necessity (budgetary pressures) and desire (public servants are socially-driven).

The first step in innovation is providing the right environment. That requires commitment – commitment to find and expand pockets of innovation, to give people time to innovate, to elevate leaders who provide that environment. If that was possible in Ancient Egypt, why does it seem to have become harder now?

Fast-forward to today; you want to leverage a new tech, say virtual reality. Buy how and why? What value could you bring? Here are a couple of examples which show how in these cases, the right technology is the best possible solution.

People working in tax, social services, policing and other areas are often required to deal with very difficult situations. How do you prepare them for that? The Avenues VR solution helps caseworkers see more, accelerates their learning, and helps them become more alert and cognizant of the signals and safety indicators they observe in challenging and often dangerous situations. These skills take years to develop in the real world– virtual reality is the only technology that can substantially reduce that learning curve.

Or take another, more common situation. In interviews, people regularly say they can think on their feet, are calm under pressure, are good at prioritization, and are open to new technology. How could you actually check that without seeing them work? To find out, Accenture UKI employed a VR solution. One of the VR Rooms had 10 challenges to complete in six minutes. All could not be completed, some required creative thinking, some could be completed but took three minutes – and candidates had to complete as many as possible in the time period. There was no pass or fail, however it tested each of the former questions in a unique way not achievable by other means.

Both of these examples show that to succeed, technology innovation has to address a real challenge that only it can solve.  So – innovation has not become harder in the last 3,000 years. But it has to have a true sense of purpose from the outset.

John Mannion

Manager – Strategy & Consulting, Health & Public Service

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