Innovation & Learning in Government

The Public Accounts Committee published a report on the 10th of September titled “Learning and Innovation in Government”

This report discusses how the public sector can “identify and implement innovative ways of tackling problems” in order to “delivering services with reduced resources” (I assume this means do more with less and NOT delivering services that are themselves reduced).

In the current climate CIOs can take two basic strategies, reduce what they spend and do more with what they already have. In reality a combination of both is needed although I personally feel that most CIOs have in recent years been through a number of cost saving iterations – how much more can you slice? CIOs should consider placing a greater emphasis on how innovation can help you do more with what you have. The down side is that the word innovation is often abused and means so many different things to different people (a bit like “Enterprise Architect”).

The Public Accounts Committee report is very readable and well worth taking a look.

This report highlights the following barriers to innovation: 

  • poor sharing of knowledge across organisational boundaries;
  • risk-averse attitudes which both stifle innovation and prevent lessons being learned;
  • learning and innovation not being built routinely into staff appraisals and competency frameworks;
  • too few ideas being generated from service users, suppliers and other organisations, and their own front-line staff;
  • many staff considering they do not have the incentives to learn or to innovate.

The report goes on to set out a number of principles and makes recommendations, in particular I want to highlight:

An innovative tone needs to be set at the top. Leaders need to be role models, setting a positive example and lending their full support to others who demonstrate such behaviours.

Organisations should form networks beyond their borders, pro-actively seeking to share Information…

Front-line staff are often best-placed to identify innovative solutions to problems. Systems are needed to draw on front-line staff…

Learning and innovation in government require the right balance of incentives and rewards, well informed understanding of risk, and determined leadership.

Innovation cannot be driven from the centre of government but central bodies have an important role to play in spreading knowledge of what works.

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