Human Services agencies have long worked to be more innovative. Today they face a convergence of forces making innovation nothing short of an imperative:
- Citizens expect better experience with more technological sophistication.
- Economic and financial conditions are forcing governments to do more with less.
- And in the face of increasingly complex social challenges, Human Services agency leaders and staff are actively pursuing an internal strategic shift to achieve more through technology.
Accenture commissioned a study of government innovation spanning nearly 600 respondents in 10 countries. The study revealed important insights about how Human Services agencies are driving innovation. It also points to a framework for achieving greater effectiveness in managing innovation—and delivering the outcomes that matter most.
Finding the innovation leaders
Our study found that Human Services leaders agree that innovation is good for people and for agencies. Digital platforms, such as LinkedIn, are transforming the employment services landscape, and digital ecosystems/non-traditional service providers are jostling to disrupt public service delivery. Given these realities, agencies are undertaking a strategic shift towards modernization and innovation to drive better, faster interventions. They are working to put people at the center, while shifting ingrained mindsets.
The ultimate goals: Enhanced services and outcomes for citizens.
In Accenture’s government innovation survey, 68 percent of all public service executives believe digital ecosystems are already having a noticeable impact on, or will dramatically transform, the industry. Among the 185 employment and social services professionals we surveyed, we found almost universal recognition of what citizens are asking of them. Ninety percent of employees see innovation as an important part of their day-to-day jobs. The same percentage of leaders view innovation as an important part of both their day-to-day jobs and their leadership responsibilities.
While the will to innovate is strong, Human Services agencies are so far lagging behind other players in implementing new technologies and transforming the organization to new models. In Accenture Intelligent Technologies in Public Services research, nearly half (46 percent) say they’re lagging behind partner organizations in the knowledge and adoption of emerging technologies.
How can Human Services agencies work to change that? Start by following today’s innovation leaders.
Reach different citizen groups/demographics.
Discontinue services or programs that are not performing well or meeting expectations.
Create a business case for every innovation project.
Implement innovations to address a lack of awareness/knowledge of digital services.
Have a framework to evaluate ROI and other potential public impact of innovation cases after they have been implemented.
Reinvest "innovation dividends"—the time and cost savings or other benefits generated by an innovation—for other purposes.
Develop the three core competencies of innovation
Agencies that emerged as Human Services innovation leaders have cultivated three core competencies:
Leadership and Culture. Innovation leaders demonstrate the importance of innovation, along with the agency’s commitment to it, by incorporating clear objectives into the organization’s strategy and fostering collaboration internally. Culturally, these agencies diffuse ownership of innovation to ensure that it is absorbed at all levels. They also take a ‘fail fast’ approach, with risks managed and risk-takers not penalized for their efforts.
Learn from innovation leaders:
- Use innovation to achieve the mission.
- Nurture innovation DNA.
- Create space for innovation.
Innovation Ecosystems. To make a greater impact, innovation should benefit from the knowledge and experience of teams from within and outside an agency. Innovation leaders recognize this and are more likely to develop an ecosystem of partners, including start-ups. Such partnerships are especially valuable to ideation and execution, helping generate a stronger pipeline of ideas and bolstering the agency’s ability to turn them into a reality.
Learn from innovation leaders:
- Be open to outside-in innovation.
- Tailor partnerships to objectives.
- Experiment with collaboration methods.
Innovation Technologies. As digital transformation gains traction in social services, innovation leaders are even more receptive to it. Analytics, AI and other innovative technologies are no longer out of reach. Indeed, technology is increasingly viewed as a commodity. Thus, the imperative for social services is to determine how best to deploy platforms and services to support mission outcomes. Innovation leaders demonstrate the power of pilots and proofs-of-concept as ways of testing solution and determining which is most "fit for purpose."
Learn from innovation leaders:
- Establish a strong ICT backbone by moving the enterprise to the cloud.
- Leverage the power of data.
- Focus innovations in the new.
Amplify success with innovation enablers
With three core competencies in place, Human Services agencies can use enablers to help create the right environment for innovation:
- Finance. Innovation leaders allocate more than 10 percent of their administrative budget to innovation (13 percent vs. 3 percent within other agencies).
- Skills. Innovation leaders find it relatively easy to identify people internally and externally with the skills needed to introduce or execute innovations (74 percent vs. 40 percent).
- Impact Measurement. Innovation leaders have a framework to evaluate return on innovation investments and other potential public impact of innovation cases following implementation (90 percent vs. 63 percent).
- Ability to Scale. Innovation leaders are more likely to move from initial prototype or pilot to full implementation of an innovative service in less than six months (22 percent vs. 8 percent).
These enablers are by no means "new" to any agency. By finding ways to innovate these traditional levers, Human Services agencies can amplify success. That can include synchronizing across the three dimensions—for example, partnership for new source of finance, tapping into external skills and expertise.