APS 200 Public Sector Innovation Project

I am Mark Paterson, Secretary of the Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research and I want to share with you information about a new project that I am sponsoring.

The Project aims to find ways of promoting innovation in the Australian Public Service (APS). There is a growing recognition that innovation is essential for good government. More so than ever in the face of new and more complex problems, rising public expectations and the need for public sector agencies to do more with less.

In early August, the APS Secretaries Board met and approved a project to oversee action on the recent report Empowering Change: Fostering Innovation in the Australian Public Service.

The project will look at ways to further the key directions of the Empowering Change report ie:

  • To develop a more open and collaborative approach to public policy and administration;
  • To integrate innovation into our work in a more strategic and systematic way;
  • To develop and apply the right skill sets to facilitate innovative approaches; and
  • To share, recognise and reward innovation in the APS, both to increase learning and to develop a more innovative culture.

The project is being led by members of the APS 200 (a senior leadership group comprised of Senior Executive Service Band 3 officers and the Secretaries). The members of this APS 200 project team are:

  • Patricia Kelly, Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research (Chair)
  • Barbara Bennett, Department of Human Services
  • Lyn O’Connell, Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government
  • Bob Correll PSM, Department of Immigration and Citizenship
  • Bruce Hunter, Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs
  • Carmel McGregor, Australian Public Service Commission
  • Ewen McDonald, Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations
  • Daryl Quinlivan, Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy

I am very much looking forward to the outcomes of the project, which I hope will have wide application across the APS. The project members will be looking to this blog and other social communication tools to get your ideas, insights and input. You will also be able to keep up-to-date with developments in the project on this blog.

I am pleased to be sponsoring this important project and to be supporting public sector innovation more broadly. It will be key to building a public service that can meet the challenges of the future.

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  1. Alex
    Another heads up for you (and anyone else interested in Government Innovation);
    The Federal Communications Commission (USA) is finally getting with the times and the technology to relaunch (“reimagined”) itself.
    Have a look at GovLoop introduction to this interesting site; http://www.govloop.com/profiles/blogs/top-5-reasons-betafccgov-is.
    Probably worth keeping an eye on this important initiative.
    Also note the “good practice” used to develop and launch their new initiative.
    Keep Thinking Innovation

  2. Alex
    Did you see the recent report from the US (prepared by the Partnership for Public Service and Ideo) on the barriers (and how to alleviate these) to innovation in the US Fed. It is a simple but comprehensive report that may give some clues for us here in Australia.
    Have a look at;

    • Hi Darron – yes, I did thanks. Fairly high level but yes, it’s got some good points.

      • Alex
        Your moderation skills are superb. An answer in less than 1 hour. This is good “community engagement practice” and if all moderators worked to a timetable like this there would be a lot more faith (from the community) in having a worth while discussion with government (Gov2.0).

  3. I am concerned that the rights of Australian citizens are being unjustly impinged. To fine someone $11k per day because they choose to link to a website is a slap in the face of free speech and free citizens of the world.


    • Darron – this comment is in reference to a misperception that the wikileaks site is listed by ACMA as prohibited online content. As John Sheridan from AGIMO has identified in this post, that it is not currently the case. There were two other identical comments made under the name or pseudonym Censored and David.

      • Thanks for the clarification. I am not sure how my reply ended up under Steve post as it was meant to be attached to Peter’s comment.
        But thx for picking it up and responding.

  4. One of the keys to innovation, APS reform and, indeed, the implementation of Gov 2.0 is the reinvention of management itself.

    Check out the Management Innovation Exchange to see some great concepts around this.

    Gary Hamel, among others founded MIX.

    • Hey Peter
      This is a bit cryptic. You lost me.
      What are you talking about and what does it have to do with introducing Innovation into the APS?

  5. Hi Folks

    I suggest one of the things we could do in terms of engaging the wider community is to check out community based sites where we could post. An example in the ACT is RiotACT >>> http://the-riotact.com/

    RiotACT has been around for ten years now.

    So the task would be to do some homework on sites of that nature across Australia. Better to be proactive and plan on this me thinks.


  6. Mark
    As an adjunct to this site and the APS 200 – innovation project, I thought I would bring to you and your members attention a new site I have had a hand in developing.
    The site; http://innovativecouncil.wikidot.com/start
    was developed to educate government employees(primarily at local level but all) on innovation (methods, practices, actual applications, ideas etc).
    I welcome your joining this site and any comments you would like to make.
    I hope this site covers a niche for government people and generates some active interest.
    Darron Passlow

    • Darren – thanks for the link. As you might have seen in our report Empowering Change there’s a recommendation (no.11) that the APS should take on action on the “establishment and maintenance of an Innovation Toolkit website to support innovative agencies and public servants”. We’re working on this issue and will be posting a piece on our initial thinking soon.

      • Alex
        Thanks and I am looking forward to seeing what you come up with under “Innovation Toolkit”.

  7. I was pointed to this “great” initiative by Steve Davies (at OZLoop). I have visited the site intermittently, but am disappointed by the lack of involvement or interaction on the site.
    If it was not for Steve and Elizabeth, the site would be “baron” of ideas and useless.
    I assume there is more going on behind the scenes.
    You need to bring this to the fore!

    The answer to a question from Alex on how to promote the site is key.
    It is obviously not being actively promoted.
    There are some 8 departments involved. Surely the word can be passed around all in these departments and comments requested.

    A friend and I set up a Local Governement discussion site (Wiki) on Local Government issues.
    We have had reasonable success in promoting this site;
    Some 250 members, but it has taken alot of work and continually updating the content to attract new people and keep the early adopters.
    Good ...

    ... luck. Promotion of the activity and this site is a key to success.
    If I can help I am only too willing and able to contribute and support this activity.

    • Hi Darron
      Great comment, and I really appreciate your thoughts on generating discussion and engagement. Its an area that we are working on.
      As you alluded to, there is a lot going on behind the scenes with the project and lots of material being produced. We will be bringing more of this stuff to the blog for discussion and comment over the next few weeks, including the publication of the Project’s first report submitted for endorsement as well as some information about future project deliverables.
      Darron, thanks again for your comment and we will work harder to enrich the content on the blog to make it fresher and more engaging. Going forward, we’d certainly welcome yours or others comments on how we can achieve this.

    • I have to say that at present I don’t have much time to devote to the site and participation in the network.

      But that could be part of the issue. People simply don’t have time to read, digest and consider alternatives to what they are currently doing.

      Problems may be identified but moving from inertia to proactively managing innovation is a very long step.

      • Elizabeth
        It should not be so important for you or me (as individuals) to have the time to contribute here. There should be enough members of the site that continuous discussion flows.
        This is the problem most sites have and it is the problem for the organizers of this site. You need enough bodies (minds) involved to keep the debate flowing. We need to open this site up to more talented people who are inspired to contribute.
        Otherwise this initiative will end up like most others;
        “A nice idea that never made it!”
        It would be ashame because I feel this is a worthwhile initiative that needs to succeed. If this does not succeed with all the important department (APS) involve, the move to innovation in the APS is in dire straights.
        Come on team, lets get moving on this important initiative and put some resources (and smart thinking) into the exercise so it moves beyond ...

        ... a good idea (that failed).

        • I’d just like to emphasise that we are appreciative of those of who do take the time and effort to comment. The network that this blog supports is growing but it is a gradual process. We are working to build awareness about innovation and our work, but recognise that many may not have time to devote to the issue and that there are varying levels of interest. As the project proceeds we hope to be able to point to some more concrete initiatives that will assist agencies and public servants in integrating innovation into their day to day work.

          • Alex
            Thanks for letting us know there is someone out there who cares.
            It does take time to build a presence on line (regardless of the topic).
            This topic of innovation in the APS is compelling, once people are educated on what can be achieved through innovation.
            This site needs some interesting topics to generate comment and interest.
            Perhaps start with;
            and look at the “Global Innovation Examples”. Early days but there are good examples of government innovation out there. We just need to find them and work out how we apply them to government in Australia.
            I am interested because it is IMPORTANT!
            We need to get others inspired and contributing.
            Keep Thinking Innovation
            Darron Passlow

  8. One practical thing we could do is have an APS wide Employee Innovation Program along the lines of that implemented by our public sector colleagues in Canada

  9. Thinking about public servants, innovation and social media participation (including in this blog), one of the critical areas identified as being critical is that of building capability within the public service. Hate the jargon as it’s really about how well individuals can engage on line.

    Which leads me to FUD http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fear,_uncertainty_and_doubt

    To what extent does FUD impact innovartion and social media participation in the public service? How much FUD is there in the APS? What causes the FUD? Where does the FUD come from? How do we get rid of it?

    And as one of my colleagues just said, How do we move from FUD to Buzz? How about a discussion on Innovation – Moving from FUD to Buzz.

  10. This is a great initiative, but I suggest some communication work needs to be done to get public servants actively engaged. There is some good conversation about innovation going on over at OZloop http://apsozloop.ning.com/group/innovate

    The tagline to Nicholas Gruen’s post on the AGIMO site ‘The main event is you’ suggests that a greater degree of, for want of a better word, activism is needed. That’s a hard one – I suspect the notion of public servants becoming more activist about the shape and direction of the APS may be somewhat uncomfortable for some.

    But what is the point of dialogue without action? And, as has been said many times, there are a lot of hurdles to jump. Here are my thoughts on the hurdles.

    Some time ago the head of U.S. Strategic command made a statement to the effect that the chain of command is not the chain of information. ...

    ... That was in relation to the use of social media. We can learn a lot from that simple statement. For too long in the APS we have embraced the notion that APS level (chain of command) is the chain of information. Consequently, information … and views are distorted, layers of complexity built up and solutions to problems over engineered.

    Add to the above the fact that a lot of work may require the involvement of many different areas and I think one gets a feel for why major the problems around innovation, reform and Gov 2.0 are red tape and organisational culture. That is not to say, however, that the problem is as simple as the higher you go up the food chain the greater the volume of red tape. We all contribute to the problem of red tape and, to use a shorthand term, culture.

    That being said, from a sociological and organisational perspective the questions become:

    What areas have the greatest interest in red tape and the preservation of what is increasingly an arcane view of hierarchy?

    Whose careers are bound up with the current state of affairs?

    Why do people speak up when contributing to sector wide reports? But obviously find it much harder in their organisation or workplace.

    Difficult questions, but overall I think the questions above and the situation I have alluded to point us in some directions. In the interests of further discussion I’ll put those directions forward as questions.

    1. Why can’t leadership be provided to break the nexus between APS level and the chain of information?

    2. Given that corporate areas are in effect the ‘keepers of red tape’, why not reform those areas root and branch to shift the culture. In this I would include assurance, risk, human resource, communication and organisational development areas. So, yes, radical reform is necessary in these areas.

    4. Why not reduce the layers of management (and approval), to get things done. We keep saying we have great people, but behave as if we don’t.

    5. Why not review the performance of staff according their actual personal decision making capability and then give them an ‘above level’ delegation so that holes are poked in the existing APS structure.

    6. Social media tools are great weapons to review decision making and to come to a balanced view of how we work and the structures and processes we work within. So if there is a radical element to these thoughts it is let staff ‘go for it’. By that I mean giving agencies giving their staff a clear OK to speak up, giving them the means to do so and setting an example. In the Gov 2.0 space the talk is of enhanced democracy. In the workplace this is probably translates as enhanced participation – and action.

    With a bit of push on the communication side this blog could help provide momentum and action.


    Steve Davies

    • Hi Steve – thanks for your commments and questions. It is early days yet for the project, and we expect there will be a range of opportunities for public servants to get involved in this, as well as any innovation activities within their own agencies.

      I have been following the OZloop discussions and we’re open to suggestions on how else we might promote this blog and the related work.


      • Hi Alex

        Couple of suggestions. Contact the PS News and submit something to them http://www.psnews.com.au/

        Approach the APSC to do a mail out encouraging people to participate.

        Contact agency heads asking them to get there internal comms people to include in staff newsletters.


    • I am currently toying in my head with the concept of reducing the layers of management and how this could actually be achieved.

      I think we do need to address the way we work in the public service yes there needs to be recognition of management but the very hierarchal level system seems good at making people act like demigods. And yes I have heard of one APS 6 that told an APS 5 “you don’t have a say on how we do this because your only a five”. Whilst this is an extreme case and does not comply with the Values or Code of Conduct it shows a deeper issue that people still think in this manner.

      I am lucky in that the team I work is a team, yes we have APS and EL but it’s still a team in function. We work together to ...

      ... achieve a business objective and the person with the skills to perform the task is allocated that task (or support provided to learn the tasks).

      My initial thoughts was to remove the current APS levels from APS 1 up to EL1 and simply have a single APS wage which is defined in proportion to your experience and level required. EL2 would manage the teams and report to the Branch Managers still. But after a while I went back to needing some kind of structure within APS levels to enable people to move within that single band, pay purposes, ensuring equity across departments.

      I have another comment but will create a second post!

      • Elizabeth
        Bit slow in responding but just notice this post.
        To move from a hierarchy to a teams based approach, you might want to consider “Self Managed Teams” approach. Sounds like your group might already be there (and reaping the benefits).
        But for others, some words and readings on this approach,
        go to http://innovativecouncil.wikidot.com/self-managed-teams

    • Second comment as promised!

      “2. Given that corporate areas are in effect the ‘keepers of red tape’, why not reform those areas root and branch to shift the culture. In this I would include assurance, risk, human resource, communication and organisational development areas. So, yes, radical reform is necessary in these areas”

      Radical Reform them to what?

      I think there is a lot of reform that could be undertaken in Corporate areas and being within the Corporate area we do attempt to continually ask
      • why,
      • why are we asking area’s to do this activity,
      • is it needed,
      • can the information be found someplace else,
      • can it be distributed throughout the organisation rather than in a single corporate area.

      In the end I didn’t have any innovative solutions to the problems faced by corporate areas.

  11. Thanks Mark,

    I’ve just been posting on one of the other topics, and in that response I made mention of how can non EL/SES public servants get to communicate with senior management on necessary culture change or any issue that they feel is required.

    So I feel it’s fantastic that you and Patricia Kelly are using tools that any public servant can offer an opinion without necessarily needing the usual approval processes that occur within a hierarchal structure.

    In response I think that public servants such as me have a responsibility to become aware of and educated in the issues they are choosing to discuss. We also need to take the opportunities presented to participate in these forums and encourage others to do the same.