Nurturing a culture of innovation in government

The importance of innovation for ongoing organisational and business improvement is well understood, but embedding it as part of a government’s cultural DNA has its own unique challenges.

One of these challenges is in measuring the effectiveness of an innovation program. For most organisations, profit is an easily established metric. For many government departments and not-for-profit organisations, metrics are often not so visible or easy to quantify.

Another challenge is the difficulty in implementing a ‘stick and carrot’ approach as many people see a job in government as a job for life.

The following approaches could help governments overcome these barriers and successfully embed and nurture a thriving innovation culture throughout the organisation.

Understand what ‘innovation’ really means

Innovation should be defined in simple terms so it can be easily understood and embraced by everyone in the organisation. One definition that has been widely adopted is, ‘change that adds value’.

There’s very little in the world that can’t be improved in some way or rendered obsolete by the march of technology. Australia’s motor vehicle registration stickers, for example, have been replaced with number plate recognition cameras, rapid wireless communications and access to reliable databases.

Initiative must come from the top

A major bank in Singapore links bonuses to key performance index scores for its business unit leaders. The expectation is that 10 per cent of revenue from each successive year should come from product innovation. In government, this should be no different; the message must be driven from the top.

Do you need an innovation department?

Many large organisations create internal innovation departments with metrics that require staff to deliver and quantify outcomes, and to demonstrate a real cost benefit. Governments should also be doing this, but not without first developing proper metrics to measure innovation performance as a positive for the organisation, rather than risk it becoming a costly burden.

Sound metrics can only be founded on an understanding of the real mission of the organisation and then developing typically five parameters to give a quantitative measure of progress towards stated goals.

Make innovation everyone’s job

It’s essential for people to understand that innovation is everybody’s job and not solely that of an innovation department or senior management. One way of doing this is to implement widespread training in the art of innovation, provide tools and techniques, conduct workshops and mentor teams to inspire innovation throughout the organisation.

Create Innovation Circles

Innovation Circles are analogous to the famous Japanese Quality Circles developed by Edwards Deming in the 1950's. These circles raised the level of Japanese quality from ‘junk’ to the best in the world by the 1990's. The exact principles can be applied to innovation.

Innovation Circles should involve cross-functional teams of up to four members who meet regularly to explore the opportunity landscape and the potential for innovation to be applied to find real solutions to real issues of the organisation.

Build confidence through early wins with simple innovations

Early wins can often be found in process innovation, typically in the removal waste and internal bottlenecks. The automation of car parking meters and e-payments are examples of technology used to reduce cash collections while simultaneously increasing the capture rate of delinquent parking incidences.

Utilise ‘Cloud’ based software for people to network, share and build on ideas

Ideas and innovations are often spontaneous thoughts sparked by observations or events, sometimes at the most unexpected times. Giving people the capability to explore and contribute to the thinking and building of ideas in real time will greatly enhance the idea capture process and prevent good ideas from being lost.
 

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