In Brief | Public Sector Innovation

Innovation can be defined as the generation, selection, implementation, sustainment and diffusion of new ideas. An effective public sector is one that recognises, rewards and nurtures innovation to enhance public performance, particularly in policy development, program design and service delivery. 

The following resources will introduce you to innovation in the public sector. Your feedback is welcome here!

Innovation has been central to many initiatives undertaken by Australian public sector entities.  The 2009 publication of The public innovator’s playbook: nurturing bold ideas in Government by Deloitte and the Harvard Kennedy School and of Innovation in the public sector: enabling better performance, driving new directions by the Australian National Audit Office were important contributions that indicate the growing interest and importance of the topic. Increasingly, governments recognised that innovation is not a tangential activity with limited relevance to their mainstream work, but an activity that is core to being able to achieve key public sector goals.

In 2010 the report Empowering Change: Fostering Innovation in the Australian Public Service was released. This framework document made a number of recommendations about how innovation could be further encouraged in the APS. The APS Innovation Action Plan in 2011 was developed to implement the recommendations of Empowering Change. Recommendations included: developing an innovation consciousness in the APS; building innovation capacity, leveraging the power of co-creation and strengthening innovation leadership. Background to the Public Sector Innovation Project can be found here.

Initiatives from the Action Plan are coordinated by the Department of Industry Innovation and Science and include the Public Sector Innovation Toolkit and Blog and the Public Sector Innovation Network (PSIN).

The PSIN is open to all, but has been developed for an audience of public sector employees and academics. Network members receive a weekly email with news, developments and events in public sector innovation and design in Australia and overseas. A key activity of the PSIN is the coordination of Innovation Month, which runs across Australia during July each year.  Go to the PSIN Instagram account for some images from this year’s Innovation Month. You can also follow PSIN on Twitter.

Public sector innovation (PSI) units are increasingly being established and commissioned by governments around the world to bring new insights and approaches to policy design and the delivery of public services. Mapping public sector innovation units in Australia and New Zealand: 2018 survey report was conducted by Melbourne University’s Policy Lab to analyse the methodology of PSIs and their role within the broader policy environment.

Public Sector Innovation Month occurs each July with a busy schedule of presentations, workshops and speeches across Australia.  Innovation Month ais seen by agencies as an opportunity to either publicly showcase their achievements, or focus on the internal discussion to build their innovation culture through workshop events or a strategy launches.The theme of Innovation Month 2018 was Working Together and the month was launched at an event hosted by IPAA ACT on 3 July 2018.  A video of the event can be accessed here and Martin Parkinson's speech at the event can be found here.

One of the highlights of Innovation Month is the announcement of the Public Sector Innovation Awards – a joint initiative between the PSIN and IPAA ACT. These Awards – which have been running since 2016 - aim to recognise, celebrate and share innovative approaches to public administration in the Commonwealth and ACT Governments. The IPAA ACT website has a rich resource of information about the Awards, including videos of the pitch events and Awards ceremonies since 2016.

The IPAA ACT website content also provides a platform to share and showcase innovation across the public sector and contributes to a key strategy of the Innovation Action Plan (described above) which is to sustain innovative practices in the public sector and provide a valuable library of case studies for follow-on innovation and research. This encourages organisations to have “absorptive capacity” by absorbing new knowledge and thus become learning organisations. Absorptive capacity is arguably the most important differentiator for competitive advantage in the knowledge economy.

The term learning organisations was coined through the work of Peter Senge and his associates and encourages organisations to shift towards a more interconnected way of thinking. According to Senge in The Fifth Discipline learning organisations are those “where people continually expand their capacity to create the results they truly desire, where new and expansive patterns of thinking are nurtured, where collective aspiration is set free, and where people are continually learning to see the whole together”. Sustainable innovation will occur in a culture which encourages collaboration and facilitates learning networks e.g. through communities of practice, use of experts and shared social activities. The Mandarin recently described a “coffee date” initiative of the Victorian government –which aims to drive further ideas by connecting people better and provide tools and case studies so they can learn from one another.

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