Barriers

Caucasian male adult staring forward, confused, with a question mark above his head on the wall. Focus point is on the person's headThere are a number of potential barriers in the innovation process in the public sector. It can be useful to be aware of these potential barriers or difficulties so that they can be anticipated and possibly avoided or minimised.

The barriers or impediments to innovation listed here will not always apply in every agency and in relation to every innovation that happens in the public sector. Nor are all of these issues unique to the public sphere. However some relate to accountability and legislative requirements of the APS or are tied to the democratic system that the APS operates in. Such ‘barriers’ are necessary and appropriate constraints that the APS must consider rather than circumvent.

The work of the APS 200 project on public sector innovation, through this Toolkit and other initiatives, has worked to address some of these barriers (identified in Empowering Change: Fostering Innovation in the Australian Public Service).

The following table lists a range of barriers and illustrates where they affect the various phases of the innovation process. The barriers are then discussed in more detail.

The table shows where each barrier can affect the innovation process. Risk, short-term focus, failure of leadership, policies and procedures, efficiency and resources, and external opposition can affect all phases. Skill sets and mobility, failed innovations, procurement requirements, recognition and feedback, measurement and impact can all affect generation with some impacting other phases as well. Divergent employment conditions can affect generation. Lack of champions and scrutiny can impact on all phases except generation. Policy, hierarchy, silos, and legislation can impact on the selection and implementation phases. Accountability and resistance can affect implementation and sustaining. Reluctance to let go impacts on implementation. Sustaining innovation affects sustaining. Identifying success factors affects sustaining and diffusion.

Barrier Generation Selection Implementation Sustaining Diffusion
Risk Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Short-term focus Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Failure of leadership Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Policies and procedures Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Efficiency and resources Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
External opposition Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Skills sets & mobility Yes Yes Yes Yes No
Failed innovations Yes Yes Yes No No
Procurement requirements Yes Yes No No No
Recognition and feedback Yes Yes No No No
Measurement & impact Yes No No Yes Yes
Divergent employment conditions Yes No No No No
Lack of champions No Yes Yes Yes Yes
Scrutiny No Yes Yes Yes Yes
Policy No Yes Yes No No
Hierarchy No Yes Yes No No
Silos No Yes Yes No No
Legislation No Yes Yes No No
Accountability No No Yes Yes No
Staff resistance No No Yes Yes No
Reluctance to let go No No Yes No No
Sustaining innovation No No No Yes No
Identifying success factors No No No Yes Yes

Barriers impacting on all phases of the innovation cycle

Risk

Public servants are often regarded as risk-averse. This is not surprising, given the potential for political and media criticism of the government if programs or policies are seen to fail. It is easier to avoid criticism by not taking risks, particularly as the consequences of risk-taking in the public sector can be severe and can include political damage to the government, public criticism, possible legal consequences, diminished career prospects, and damage to personal reputation. Thus, as the ANAO better practice guide highlights, risk-taking must be well judged and carefully managed in the public sector.

As well as the obvious risk of failure, a range of other risks may be involved in introducing innovation:

  • The risk that the innovation may render the skills of the staff or service manager of the organization obsolete
  • The risk that the innovation will cost more than was intended
  • The risk that the innovation will have unintended consequences
  • The risk that the innovation may be pursued by external (political) stakeholders, irrespective of its actual impact on the efficiency and/or effectiveness of a public service
  • The risk that the innovation may be successful but not attract sufficient take-up to ensure its financial viability
  • The risk that the innovation might be successful but that the PSO [public sector organisation] could not cope with the subsequent increased level of demand for the service.1

The impact of risk can be amplified by public servants second-guessing the risk appetite of supervisors. While an individual may be willing to deal with a particular risk, they may assume that someone above them will not. This can extend to the ministerial level, as public servants make assumptions about the risk appetite of their ministers rather than consulting them on the risks and opportunities posed by particular new ideas or approaches.

Parliamentary processes for scrutiny, such as the Senate Estimates process or the reports of the Auditor-General, tend to focus on risks, shortcomings and failures. It is not the vast majority of agency activities being performed successfully that claim attention, but the small minority experiencing problems. A disproportionate focus on those activities can lead to broad claims and perceptions of public sector incompetence and ineptitude. Such exposure to parliamentary and public criticism can act as a powerful disincentive for experiment or risk taking and again emphasises the need to carefully manage public sector innovation.

Legal frameworks also emphasise risk. Legal advice will detail risks, many of which will not have equal weight but must still be considered. Poor legal advice will often set out all possible risks without advising on likelihood, consequences or ways of minimising the risks. As one public servant put it, ‘my lawyers always give me multiple reasons why I can’t do what I am seeking to, they never seem to give me helpful advice on how I can do what I want to.’

Clearly, it is sensible to get relevant legal advice when considering new approaches or ways of doing things, however it is important to frame the request appropriately so as to get a useful and balanced response and to remember that legal advice is only one input into decision making. The risk of not changing, of not trying new ideas and potentially not moving forward, also needs to be considered.

In some cases APS attitudes or processes tend to punish innovators by shifting all of the risk involved in the innovation onto them. Agencies or units within agencies seeking to introduce an innovation that requires funding may be told that they can go ahead but need to fund the initiative internally. Thus, if the innovation fails or does not prove to be cost effective, the innovative unit or agency bears all the loss. Such experiences lead agencies to the view that any innovative efforts are fraught with risk.

Budget and funding processes can also make innovators secretive about what they are doing. If an innovative idea produces savings for example these could be deducted from an agency’s budget going forward. This can pose particular risks if an assessment is made of the projected savings over future budget years and deducted from an agency’s budget in advance.

While these practices may be consistent with disciplined budget management, if applied bluntly and without broader consideration, they can clearly constitute barriers to experimentation and innovation.

The 2009 ANAO better practice guide on innovation identifies risk management as a fundamental feature of the innovation process and notes a tendency towards risk avoidance.

While the United States has a different system of public administration, the situation in that country appears similar:

“Above all, however, the problem is that most elected chief executives perceive bureaucratic innovation as very risky. Challengers, legislators, and the media concentrate almost exclusively on failure. Failure is news. It generates controversy, particularly about who was responsible, and can be portrayed as scandalous.” 2

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Short-term focus

The most competitive and internationally successful companies ensure that time is dedicated to analysing and solving the problems of the future—for example, large multinational companies dedicate time and resources to research with a view to providing the solutions that will maintain their competitiveness in years to come.

Innovation in the public service, particularly innovation of a substantial or transformative nature, requires a work environment in which resources are given not only to the immediate issues but also to the longer term challenges. Such resources tend to build up the intellectual capital on which inventive new ideas and approaches are based. Acceleration of the policy development process can also make it hard for innovation (which can have a long development period) to be possible in the timeframe and can stifle engagement with relevant stakeholders and citizens.

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Failure of leadership

Leaders play a pivotal role in enabling innovation by demonstrating willingness to accept risk and supporting and rewarding innovative ideas and approaches. Often the default response to a risk situation by a supervisor can be ‘No’. Innovators then have to do significantly more work to get a ‘Yes’, and risk getting another ‘No’ one step further in the process. This has been referred to as ‘death through frustration’, which leads to a loss of enthusiasm for innovating.

Leaders, especially agency heads and SES staff, set the tone—they have a big influence on the culture and attitudes within an organisation. Through their actions, leaders can make clear that innovation is an issue of some priority and is valued and rewarded within an agency. If agency leaders show no interest in innovation, that also sends a clear message to staff.

Leaders are also vital because of the requirement for efficient decision making. A central issue with innovation in large organisations, including the APS as a whole, are the joint problems of groupthink and consensus decision making. There are usually strong messages running through agencies about their goals and directions, and also about what various senior people are looking for—if left unchecked, this can degenerate into groupthink.

There is also a stronger desire in the public sector to deliver outcomes that do not disadvantage or upset anybody, and significant effort is often expended to ensure ‘buy‑in’ with a decision. The drive for buy-in or consensus can both slow down decision making and make doing new things incredibly hard.

These are issues that need strong and considered leadership to manage. Leadership needs to encourage debate and consideration of problems on their merits and ensure that participants in decision making feel they have been listened to. However, leaders must ‘take sides’, make things happen and implement change even against some resistance when necessary. The importance of leadership will only increase as the adoption of Government 2.0 tools increases and the range of voices involved in policy development and implementation grows.

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Policies and procedures

“Bureaucracies, task forces, org charts, and formal [administrative] processes do not breed innovation. They kill it.” 3

Innovative public servants may point to frustration with approval processes, which can be so embedded and cumbersome that they can stifle creativity and flexibility in the workplace. A submission to the 2009 Management Advisory Committee project said:

“I think this is the major barrier/impediment to more innovation and creativity in the workplace. We will be skirting around the edges with innovative projects here and there, but we need to get to the core of the issue. We have the modern technology, but we do not have the modern work practises and work culture to go with this. We need to have the full package. Until we look at this it is going to impede any progress in the development of innovative programs that government introduces for business and the community.”

Public sector policies and rules (and how they are interpreted) can be used to block innovative options.

“I shouldn’t have to ‘go around’ my IT Security section and, I suppose, blatantly disregard departmental policies, in order to be innovative … they should be saying ‘here are the risks, how can we help you deal with them?’” 4

However, the risks and punishments for failing to comply with relevant policies, rules and frameworks can be high and can outweigh the rewards from trying innovative methods that deviate from the routine.

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Efficiency and resources

“Making the business case for an innovative solution can be difficult. Business case evaluation is typically ROI [return on investment] driven. An innovative solution carries inherent risk of a new approach. An innovative solution can be more difficult to cost than a tried-and-true solution.”5

Availability of resources can be a significant barrier to innovation. In many ways, this sits in constant tension with the necessary push for efficiency in government.

The public service has an obligation to use resources efficiently. In Australia, each federal agency has to deliver a yearly ‘efficiency dividend’, which has operated in some form since 1987‑88. This provides a continuing pressure on agencies to ensure that productivity improves, and can act as a spur to innovation.

Yet many innovative ideas require time and funding for their development, testing and implementation. Many innovations will need time and investment before they will achieve better outcomes than the current solutions. However, public servants can be reluctant to incorporate such elements into budget planning for fear that those elements will be seen as too big a risk and that resources would be better allocated elsewhere.

A similar problem can arise when the staff member who puts forward an idea is tasked with investigating it, taking it to implementation, or both. While many proponents are keen to carry their idea forward and to help implement it, their keenness is blunted when they are expected to do this on top of existing responsibilities.

In addition, they might not have the skills to investigate or deliver on the idea by themselves. Thus while the individual may be given an opportunity to pursue their idea, they are given no corporate support to do so. In such circumstances, managers can be confronted with a difficult situation: the same tasks have to be done, and they may not have the resources available to offer the proponent spare time or assistance to investigate the idea.

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External opposition

Just as external public pressure can serve as a source and driver of innovation, it can also constitute a barrier. Inherent resistance to change can mean that the innovation process may barely be underway before opposition is expressed and mobilised. Existing stakeholders who feel they have a stake in the current system may resist change despite any benefits. In some quarters, a suspicion that government-sponsored changes are usually aimed at saving money and cutting services will provoke resistance—innovation can be perceived as code for ‘removing something we like’.

Some issues may be seen as inappropriate for government involvement, or the exploration of an idea may be misinterpreted as a government endorsement of a controversial position. Also, the process may be at fault. The innovation might not have been well explained beforehand or the transition might have been poorly managed, becoming an unwelcome and/or misunderstood surprise. In addition, support for an innovation may be rattled by early problems or setbacks during the implementation phase.

In each of these circumstances, negative public or stakeholder reaction can cause an innovation to be scrapped. This is not to say that responding to external feedback is bad or unwise—there is the real possibility that the new idea or system may be an inferior solution—but overreaction to limited or poorly informed feedback can stop a new idea dead in its tracks. It can also stifle the desire to innovate by giving support to the perception that good ideas will not be defended from unfair criticism.

External reaction needs to be considered and carefully balanced against the strength of the case for innovation. Unless the pressure for innovation is very strong, the risk side highlighted by external criticism often seems weightier than an uncertain innovative outcome.

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Barriers to the generation and implementation of ideas

Skill sets and mobility

There is a strong emphasis in public sector recruitment on experienced administrators and regulators. While understandable, such an emphasis can lead to a narrower than desirable skills base. There is an argument for more skills-based recruitment, with a focus on creative and lateral thinking, problem solving and collaborative abilities to ensure the range of skills required by a 21st century public service.

To achieve this, the public sector should aim to recruit a more diverse range of people (with diverse backgrounds, experiences, skills and ways of thinking) and to draw on that diversity when forming project teams or developing new proposals.

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Failed innovations

Public sector agencies are justifiably wary of discussing failed innovations, which could be held up as examples of waste and inept government, but it is through evaluation, learning from mistakes and iteration that ideas can be improved and mistakes avoided in the future. If failure is not discussed and analysed, the lessons of failure are unlikely to be learned and the innovation process will remain riskier than it need be. Indeed, in the private sector, a failure is a badge of honour for the entrepreneur because of the lessons learned through the innovative journey.

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Procurement requirements

There has been considerable interest in recent years in using the public procurement mechanism to stimulate the generation and uptake of innovative products and services. This shift has occurred mainly due to the notion that public sector demand, when oriented towards innovative solutions and products, has the potential to improve delivery of public policy and services, and achieve significant additional benefits from the procurement.

In Australia, the expenditure of public funds is a serious responsibility and is subject to a range of legal obligations. At the federal level, the Financial Management and Accountability Act 1997 (FMA Act) makes agency chief executives directly responsible for the ‘efficient, effective and ethical use’ of public funds in a way consistent with government policies. It also provides authority for the FMA Regulations, which in turn provide the framework for the Commonwealth Procurement Guidelines (CPGs) and relevant agency level regulations While necessary, the overall framework of rules can appear daunting and it is clear why public servants may be risk averse when procuring.

The core principle underpinning Australian Government procurement is value for money. In a procurement process this principle requires a comparative analysis of all relevant costs and benefits of each proposal throughout the whole procurement cycle (whole-of-life costing). However, while ‘value for money’ is the accepted basis of government purchasing, there is a strong (both perceived and actual) emphasis on achieving the lowest price. In part, this reflects the skills of the procurers—the lowest price is clear, but it is harder to assess value for money. When bidders are competing largely on price, they are reluctant to include features that are not mandatory. Innovation can end up in a ‘nice to have’ appendix, if included at all.

The standard procurement approach in the public sector is to ask the market to respond to a specific set of requirements, on the basis of either internal knowledge or external scoping. While this simplifies assessment, it can easily lock out innovative solutions by emphasising a conservative, one size fits all approach for tendering.

Inflexible standard contracts and mandatory terms and conditions can also serve to discourage innovative solutions to public sector requirements. However it should be noted that notwithstanding the rigidities of procurement rules, current Australian Government procurement regulations (see below) do allow, under specific circumstances, for public sector organisations to procure innovative goods and services obtained through the receipt of unsolicited innovative proposals (direct sourcing).

The 2008 Commonwealth Procurement Guidelines (Division 2, Clause 8.33 (c)) states that an agency may conduct a procurement through direct sourcing “for purchases made under exceptionally advantageous conditions that only arise in the very short term, such as from unusual disposals, unsolicited innovative proposals [emphasis added], liquidation, bankruptcy, or receivership and which are not routine purchases from regular suppliers”.

Within current procurement regimes, many organisations have adopted approaches to their procurement structures in order to achieve more innovative outcomes. The rise of ICT technology has allowed the extensive use of e-portals to allow the receipt and management of procurement proposals, without the necessity of rigid communication channels used previously. In addition, new techniques such as stage gating, which have been utilised heavily in the defence procurement field, can be adapted for wider use within an agency to help mitigate risk associated with an innovative procurement.

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Recognition and feedback

“Everyone is too busy trying to cope with things as they work now … They don’t have the energy or time to devote to innovation. And why would you, if your effectiveness, success and career is judged by BAU [business as usual] deliverables?” 6

A complaint identified in Empowering Change was that, while staff may be interested in being creative and innovative, there is rarely feedback on ideas, fostering of innovative initiatives or recognition of those who do innovate. Without that feedback, people putting forward ideas quickly feel frustrated, disengaged and cynical. Ideas may be dismissed for good reasons, but that information is often not conveyed back to the proponents and there is no way for them to respond or iterate their ideas. The ideas are seen as going into a black hole.

A solution to this issue can be through the development of ideas management systems which agencies are encouraged to introduce.

For those that do innovate, there is not always the reward and recognition that they might expect. New ideas are sometimes accepted almost grudgingly by agencies. The time between concept and successful implementation is often years, and those involved in proposing the innovation may have moved on, unrecognised, to other things long before innovative success is achieved.

Too often, agencies and management are not trained or encouraged to provide feedback or recognition. It is hoped that with greater reporting and measurement of innovation that agencies will have more incentive to focus on it.

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Barriers impacting on generation of ideas

Measurement and impact

If innovation is not a strategic priority, public sector agencies are unlikely to focus on and measure their innovative practices. Traditionally innovation has rarely featured in an agency’s performance measurement system, and what is not measured (or measurable) is usually not seen as important.

While the resources invested in innovative effort can be easily quantified, the impact of the innovative activity can be much more difficult to quantify, and it can take a significant time for that impact to become clear. In addition to quantitative data, this can also require the measurement of qualitative data, which is more difficult to capture.

Timing is also a problem. In many areas of public sector activity it can take a considerable time to demonstrate the impact of new policies or approaches. Early attempts at measurement or evaluation will not capture the longer term impacts.

The Department is leading the development of an Australian Public Sector Innovation Indicators (APSII) project which aims to provide a framework for measuring innovation in the public sector.

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Divergent employment conditions

Empowering Change noted that consultations had identified that differences in employment conditions between agencies can act a disincentive to moving between agencies. Inflexibility in employment conditions could also prevent public sector agencies from attracting and recruiting the best staff, including from the private sector.

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Barriers to selecting ideas

Lack of champions

The course of innovation does not always run smoothly: there will always be barriers to overcome. Often what is required is someone who really believes in an idea, ideally someone of some seniority or influence, to champion the idea and help overcome the hurdles. In the public sector, such champions have not always been well known or had a high profile and there can seem to be room for more champions with the willingness, capabilities, influence and resources to sponsor or drive innovation through the layers of management or across boundaries within and between agencies.

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Scrutiny

“Public scrutiny and media cynicism make it dangerous for public employees to launch any sort of new initiative except the kind that is virtually guaranteed to succeed.” 7

A defining characteristic of the public sector is that it is (rightly) subject to broad scrutiny—public, parliamentary and from the media. When a public sector innovation fails or is less than a total success, there is always the prospect of political consequences. The Australian political system is based on a parliamentary opposition convincing the public that it can do a better job than the elected government, so highlighting any failure in a government initiative is almost irresistible.

The media tends to report on this basis—a scandalous or inept failure makes a good story. Scrutiny of these issues is usually based on a premise of fault. This provides a strong disincentive to innovate unless the proponent is almost certain that the initiative will succeed. No‑one wants to embarrass their agency or their minister or be responsible for negative media attention.

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Policy

The public sector supports the government of the day by implementing its policies. While this does not prevent agencies from putting forward innovative ideas that may be divergent (to either a small or a large degree) from existing government policy, it makes it harder to sell the merits of those ideas. Senior executives and ministers may recognise the value of a proposal, but if it would force the government to recant an established policy position it is much less likely to be accepted.

Innovations can also occur at the wrong time in a political cycle and be caught up in a change of priorities. Innovations that feed into the government’s priorities, particularly those that hold the promise of addressing problems facing the government, will have a good prospect of support. In some instances, an innovative idea will need to wait for the right time and climate to attract the support it may deserve.

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Hierarchy

“… innovation often faces higher hurdles in a hierarchical organization—particularly a government bureaucracy—than within networks, because a host of internal horizontal constraints tend to restrict the interaction necessary to develop good ideas and vertical barriers prevent the developed ideas from bubbling up to decision.” [8. This quote is not covered by the Creative Commons licence or Commonwealth Copyright. From Stephen Goldsmith and William Eggers (2004) Governing by network: the new shape of the public sector, Brookings Institution Press, Washington DC, p.30]

Innovation tends not to thrive in highly hierarchical organisations and can pose challenges to existing hierarchies. Within agencies, rank or level has traditionally determined whose ideas are listened to or considered. If an agency solicits and filters ideas on the basis of expertise and ability instead, that may challenge the position or authority of some.

Hierarchical structures also mean that any new ideas need to go through a number of layers of approval processes. It is easier to take forward an innovative idea in organisations with flatter structures and more open, interactive processes.

There is a perception amongst many public servants that getting ideas in front of the right people is much harder than coming up with the ideas in the first place. As one commentator to the Management Advisory Committee project put it, ‘the layers of managerial clay are a major barrier—nothing gets through.’ 8

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Silos

The public sector tends to operate in silos—each tier of government has different responsibilities, agencies are given distinct areas of those responsibilities to manage, and so on. Different cultures, procedures and norms are established at each level and in each agency, thus reinforcing the divisions. To maximise their efficiency and effectiveness, agencies seek to minimise staff turnover and encourage their staff to remain with them for long periods, thereby further entrenching distinct agency cultures and values.

These divisions can be a significant barrier to sharing knowledge and to collaborative action. Cross-agency projects are becoming more common, but they face a number of obstacles. The first is that there must be both an appreciation that collaboration can lead to a better result and a will to work together. Once this decision is taken (often at a high level, by ministers or Cabinet), public servants tend to work across boundaries quite effectively (and even come to appreciate and enjoy the experience!).

These exercises do however face logistical hurdles. They must often conform to many (possibly conflicting) sets of requirements, and that can be a significant administrative burden. It is also cumbersome to allocate and manage funding across agency boundaries, and this often causes interagency conflict. Roles and responsibilities must be clearly specified, possibly requiring the development of a new operational model for each project and new interagency agreements.

“The major barriers to innovation result not from failures of individual genius but from failures of collaboration—the inability to exploit existing capabilities in revolutionary ways.9

The Public Sector Innovation Network, the Innovation blog and this Toolkit are all platforms for breaking down those silos and for assisting innovators in agencies to come together and share lessons.

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Legislation

Legislation is written in the context of the present day and the knowable future–it is not possible for laws to be drafted in a way that effectively accounts for every possible future scenario. Thus, legislation may inadvertently become a barrier to innovation by preventing a future approach or behaviour that was never contemplated during drafting (but, had it been contemplated at the time, would have been deemed acceptable).

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Barriers to implementing ideas

Accountability

The public service must be accountable for its actions. The public needs to be able to trust that resources are being used effectively in line with government policy and that there is no bias or inequity in how they are used.

Yet, in some ways, innovation conflicts with basic accountability frameworks. Being an innovator is about dealing with the uncertainty and unpredictability that makes accountability difficult. Innovation requires flexibility and variety, rather than standardisation. Accountability arrangements can reduce flexibility and thus inhibit opportunities for innovation.

These issues can be exacerbated when the innovation extends across agencies or to external groups to deliver solutions. Reporting lines become even more complex and respective responsibilities can blur.

Accountability has been thoroughly explored by the APSC, which has recommended the adoption of a ‘fit-for-purpose’ approach to government accountability frameworks. The ANAO better practice guide on innovation also provides advice on balancing risk with the demands of accountability.

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Staff resistance

Sometimes the barrier to innovation can be the staff within an agency. They may see innovation as a euphemism for something unpleasant because it may lead to changes to their jobs or their work, leaving them feeling uncomfortable or underskilled. It may change how they interact with clients and stakeholders and put them in what they feel is a difficult or unpleasant situation.

Staff may see the innovation as actually reducing service standards. It may be seen as something requiring substantial extra effort from them, but with little recognition or recompense. In some circumstances, this resistance may be entirely justified and the innovation should be reassessed, but in many cases it is a barrier that will need to be addressed by a change management process directed at, and involving, the agency staff.

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Reluctance to let go

Program delivery has its own inertia. The public service is not always good at stopping programs or re-evaluating the impact of programs that may be outdated. The public service is readily able to implement new programs and services, but getting rid of outdated or unneeded programs can be harder. The agency and its staff have a stake in the existing program, and the suggestion that it is no longer needed can pose a challenge to their importance and relevance.

There is often a justification that the service is essential and still required by stakeholders or clients. However, this reluctance may have more to do with an agency being unwilling to risk giving up the resources involved or not wanting to let go of a program for which it has perfected the administration over many years. A long-running service is more likely to be operating smoothly and performing well, but it might also no longer be necessary. Even if the service is still necessary, there may be better ways to achieve the same outcome that the agency may not be considering.

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Barriers to sustaining ideas

Sustaining innovation

“Public policy needs to ensure that the appropriate architecture is in place not just to create multiple innovations but to ensure the sustainability of successful ones.” 10

Without a simple indicator of success, such as profit or return on investment, it is important not to assume that innovations in the public sector will automatically spread or continue once implemented. In some cases, there is a tendency to return to previous models if an innovation does not prove itself over an unrealistically short period. If an innovation has met with resistance, a change of policy or government may provide an excuse or opportunity to revert to previous practice without any rigorous evaluation of the change.

In the public sector, there tends not to be an organised approach to identifying and disseminating successful innovations. Consideration and effort has to be dedicated to embedding the innovation, but post-implementation support is often neglected.

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Identifying success factors

One of the significant barriers to innovations being scaled up, diffused or widely replicated is that it can be difficult to know what led to the successful outcomes. Sometimes this is due to poor design or poor key performance indicators. While the innovation can be pointed to, the context in which it was introduced, the skill of the people who led and supported it and the supporting infrastructure all need to be considered.

It may have been only one small part of the innovation that led to success, or it may have been some other factor that coincided with the innovation’s implementation. Without evidence, analysis and evaluation, as well as support for sharing and codifying the lessons of the innovation, the task of identifying what made an innovation work can be extremely difficult.

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  1. This quote is not covered by the Creative Commons licence or Commonwealth Copyright. From Stephen Osborne and Kerry Brown (2005) Managing change and innovation in public service, Routledge, London, pp. 190–191)
  2. This quote is not covered by the Creative Commons licence or Commonwealth Copyright. From Alan Altshuler (1997) ‘Bureaucratic innovation, democratic accountability, and political incentives’ in Alan Altshuler and Robert Behn (eds), Innovation in American government: challenges, opportunities, and dilemmas, Brookings Institution Press, Washington DC, p. 48)
  3. This quote is not covered by the Creative Commons licence or Commonwealth Copyright. From Jeff Jarvis (2009) What would Google do? Collins Business, New York, p. 113
  4. Submission to the Management Advisory Committee project, 2009
  5. Submission to the Management Advisory Committee project, 2009
  6. Submission to the Management Advisory Committee project, 2009
  7. This quote is not covered by the Creative Commons licence or Commonwealth Copyright. From William Eggers and Shalabh Singh (2009) The public innovator’s playbook: nurturing bold ideas in government, Deloitte Research, p.39
  8. Submission to the Management Advisory Committee project, 2009
  9. This quote is not covered by the Creative Commons licence or Commonwealth Copyright. From Robert Cross and Robert Thomas (2009) Driving results through social networks: how top organizations leverage networks for performance and growth, Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, p.66
  10. This quote is not covered by the Creative Commons licence or Commonwealth Copyright. From Stephen Osborne and Louise Brown (2009) ‘Innovation, public policy and public services delivery in the UK. The word that would be king?’, unpublished paper

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