Context for public sector innovation

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Innovation has recently gained a higher profile in the public sector in Australia. This section gives a brief overview of some of the main developments.

Australian Public Service – Background to Public Sector Innovation

This section provides some background information on how the focus on public sector innovation has come about and how it fits with related reforms and processes.

Review of the National Innovation System (2008)

In 2008 a Review of the National Innovation System was commissioned by the Australian Government. This Review looked into a number of aspects of the innovation system, including that of innovation in the public sector.

The resulting report Venturous Australia: building strength in innovation recognised that Australia’s public sector is relatively innovative but that more could be done to encourage and facilitate innovation. The report made a number of recommendations on how this might be done.

Innovation Agenda (2009)

In Powering Ideas: An Innovation Agenda for the 21st Century the Australian Government agreed that this was an area for further consideration and included it as one of the seven priorities for the agenda. “The public and community sectors work with others in the innovation system to improve policy development and service delivery.” 1

The agenda also noted that the Australian Public Service Management Advisory Committee and the Australian National Audit Office were examining the recommendations and that “A new strategy will promote new workplace and management practices that encourage creative priority-setting, program delivery and problem-solving. It will increase the Government’s internal innovation capacity, and serve as a model for business and community organisations.” 2

Better Practice Guide (2009)

In late 2009 the Australian National Audit Office produced a better practice guide – Innovation in the Public Sector: Enabling Better Performance, Driving New Directions. This report drew on interviews with agency heads and senior public servants and recognised that risk is an inherent part of the innovation process and should be managed rather than avoided.

Management Advisory Committee (2009-10)

A concurrent process was the development of the report Empowering Change: Fostering Innovation in the Australian Public Service for the Management Advisory Committee, a senior decision-making body (its role has now been subsumed by the development of the APS 200 and the Secretaries Board). The project was overseen by a Steering Committee of senior public servants. It involved extensive research and consultations and identified:

  • Barriers that Australian public servants face when innovating
  • Sources of innovation
  • Those who can help design, implement and deliver innovation
  • What agencies, team, and individuals can do to foster innovation.

The report made twelve recommendations around the following five themes:

  • Strategy and culture
  • Leadership
  • Systemic/structural issues
  • Resourcing and managing innovation in the Australian Public Service
  • Recognition, sharing and learning.

The report was released in May 2010 by the Secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.

APS 200 Project (2010-2011)

In August 2010 the Secretaries Board of the Australian Public Service (APS) approved an APS 200 project on public sector innovation as part of implementation of recommendations from Empowering Change.

The objectives of the project were:

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

The Project reported to the Secretaries Board in April 2011 and made recommendations on the key areas for action for agencies, including leadership, openness, procurement and strategy.  The Final Report highlighted:

  • the Innovation Action Plan for the APS – a document outlining target activities and commitments by secretaries from across the APS
  • the innovation blog, a showcase of innovation activities, and a toolkit to help implement innovation
  • mechanisms for rewarding, celebrating and sharing APS innovation
  • mechanisms to sustain and embed an innovative culture within the APS over the long term.

The report recognised that innovation is a long range, fundamental changing of practice and culture in the APS.

The report included the establishment of a collaborative experimental area, called the APS Design Centre, to facilitate the development innovative capability in the APS.

Australian Public Sector Innovation Indicators Project (2011-)

A related project is the Australian Public Sector Innovation Indicators (APSII) Project. The APSII project is being led by the Department of Industry and will develop a series of Australian Public Sector Innovation Indicators to measure and report annually on innovation performance by public agencies and progress against the Australian Government’s National Innovation Priority for public sector innovation.

The APSII project will design and conduct a survey of innovation in the Australian public sector to build a set of innovation indicators. The outcomes of the project will lead to a better understanding of the extent of innovation capability in the Australian public sector and to equip agencies with the information to assess their own innovation capabilities.

APS Innovation Action Plan (2011)

A key deliverables from the APS200 Project is the APS Innovation Action Plan. This Plan, endorsed by the highest levels of the APS, acknowledges that harnessing the innovative potential of the Service and the wider citizenry is critical to success, and sets out principles and a structure to achieve this. The Action Plan provides the APS with a framework for embedding innovation in its work and achieving better outcomes.

Divided into the key areas of Consciousness, Capacity, Co-creation and Courage, the Plan outlines initiatives being undertaken to support the APS to achieve against its innovation goals. The Plan was launched on 29 June 2011, by APSC Commissioner, Steve Sedgwick, and is available via the Department of Industry (APS Innovation Action Plan).

Related Reforms

There are also some other APS reform initiatives that touch on innovation in the public sector. Two of the main ones include the Government 2.0 Taskforce and the Reform of Australian Government Administration.

The Government 2.0 Taskforce was formed in June 2009 to advise Government on, amongst other things, how to “build a culture of online innovation within Government — to ensure that government is receptive to the possibilities created by new collaborative technologies and uses them to advance its ambition to continually improve the way it operates”. The Taskforce reported in late 2009 in Engage: Getting on with Government 2.0.

The Government responded in 2010 and in July 2010 issued a Declaration of Open Government. The Declaration included “The possibilities for open government depend on the innovative use of new internet-based technologies. Agencies are to develop policies that support employee-initiated, innovative Government 2.0-based proposals.”

In March 2010 Ahead of the Game: Blueprint for the Reform of Australian Government Administration was released. As the report noted “The goal is to transform the APS into a strategic, forward looking organisation, with an intrinsic culture of evaluation and innovation.” 3 The report made a number of recommendations on how to achieve a high performing public service, a number of which related to and supported the direction of the Empowering Change report.

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State and Territory

Public sector innovation is also of interest at the State and Territory Government level. Information about the activity in each jurisdiction will be added here over time.

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Local Government

Local governments are also important players in the public sector innovation system and many councils are also looking at how to encourage innovation. It is hoped that the Toolkit will be a useful resource for employees of local governments, complementing that of the Local Government Innovation and Knowledge Exchange Network (IKEN).

IKEN is an interactive online space that provides a range of tools, resources and support for information exchange, collaboration, mutual learning and shared insights. IKEN is managed on behalf of the Australian Centre of Excellence for Local Government (ACELG) by the University of Canberra.

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  1. This quote is not covered by the Creative Commons licence. From Australian Government (2009) Powering Ideas: An Innovation Agenda for the 21st Century
  2. This quote is not covered by the Creative Commons licence. From Australian Government (2009) Powering Ideas: An Innovation Agenda for the 21st Century
  3. This quote is not covered by the Creative Commons licence. From Australian Government Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (2010) Ahead of the Game: Blueprint for the Reform of Australian Government Administration

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