There’s a lot of talk around at the moment about innovation so now is a great time to look at what innovation actually means in the public sector, how to access innovative ideas and how to share them.
A report conducted by the California Civic Innovation Project* published in April of this year looked at ways that members of the not for profit and public sectors in their area are developing more effective knowledge sharing practices in order to promote innovation. What this report uncovered was that the vast majority of respondents were interested in finding innovative ways to improve service delivery.
The three most important reasons for adopting innovative ideas are:
1. To reduce cost and increase organisational efficiency
2. The ability of the new approach to address existing community needs
3. Finding solutions to long standing problems
However, the most exciting section of the report deals with how innovative ideas can best be shared, and how to research and implement new approaches. The good news is that you don’t need to invest in huge amounts of technology or training and you don’t need to call in a team of experts to advise you. The answer is quite simply: personal contacts and networking. The most valuable sources of information when investigating and implementing new and innovative approaches to service delivery are personal networks formed within your own organisation, professional sector and the wider networking community.
A great example of networking and collaboration comes from last year’s round table discussion hosted by Serco and the Local Government Commission with senior officers from 5 local authorities. This discussion produced the following 10 key revelations, insights and ideas on innovation as reported by Alex Blyth in The Guardian**:
1. Local authorities as ‘Councils of the Future’.
A key transformation in the past few years has been in how the local government sector approaches the whole issue of innovation. As Sarah Pickup, director of health & community services at Hertfordshire council confirms: “We’re all keen to become a ‘Council of the Future,’ and I think there’s a widespread recognition that we have to up our game in this area.”
2. Moving from data to insight.
Raw data is no longer enough and local authorities need to gain insight into what that data means.
3. Foresight matters.
Service users can be the very worst people to actually design the service as they are not always aware of what they want and need. There’s a difference between what people say and what people do and services need to be delivered based on what people actually do.
4. Playful design.
In an area of the United States where they were trying to tackle obesity, the local authority encouraged underground users to use the stairs rather than the escalator by marking the stairs as piano keys and having a sound played whenever someone stepped on them. This playful approach was so appealing that people would go up the stairs, and then come back down the escalator to have another go.
5. Social listening is growing rapidly.
Commercial organisations monitor and make great use of social media sites such as Twitter and the public sector is beginning to follow suit.
6. Councils are experimenting with co-design and real-time feedback.
Local authorities are beginning to involve the community more fully in service design in area such as website design and site navigation for example.
7. Innovation is not a project, it’s a process.
Involving the community in service design and delivery involves a major shift in thinking. For example, it is no longer enough to design a service, launch it, and then move on to the next project.
8. Simplicity matters.
There’s a danger with innovative ideas that they become too complex and unwieldy to deliver – simplicity is very often the key.
9. Affordability is not a constraint.
The discussion focused very much on how to innovate and improve life for citizens in the UK, without getting bogged down with issues of affordability.
10. Collaboration is key.
Whilst many public sector organisation might lack the skills need to innovate, there are many places to turn to for advice, networking opportunities and sources of potential collaboration such as universities and the voluntary sector.
A great way to start harnessing the power of your existing contacts is to begin within your own organisation. Why not create a Mastermind Innovation Group of 6-8 people who meet monthly to present an issue or problem that requires innovative solutions. Posters, pens and other printed items distributed to staff will spread the message about the Group and its aims. Additionally you could encourage people to participate by offering a welcome gift such as a conference bag to hold their documents and paperwork. Alternatively USBs printed with the Group’s name could be used to store pdfs and large electronic files that are to be referred to during discussions.
By encouraging the free-flow sharing of ideas and introductions to members of the group’s personal networks you are likely to significantly increase your access to innovative and exciting delivery solutions.
*California Civic Innovation Project
**The Guardian Online