This is an html version of the inaugural APS (Australian Public Service) Innovation Snapshot Report. You can also access a PDF version, APS Innovation Snapshot 2015 (PDF 3.3MB), or have a look at the experimental 'Instagram version'.
- Making an Innovative Public Service
- Highlights of 2015
- The APS Innovation Agenda
- APS Innovation Case Studies 2015
- The International Context - What's happening elsewhere?
- Reflections from the Public Sector Innovation Team
“This is a century of ideas, this is a time when Australia's growth, when our living standards, when our incomes will be determined by the human capital, the intellectual capital that all of us have. By unleashing our innovation, unleashing our imagination, being prepared to embrace change, we usher in the ideas boom.”
A challenge has been set for the public service: that government will lead by example by embracing innovation and agility in the way we do business.
The National Innovation and Science Agenda spells out what is involved in this challenge:
“We are committed to changing the way government delivers to Australians by trialling good ideas, sharing information, looking for innovative suppliers and changing our policies when they are not working.”
This is an exciting challenge – we in the Australian Public Service (APS) have the opportunity to ask ourselves “how might we do things differently?” What should stay the same, what should change? What can we do best ourselves, and where are we better off helping others deliver by letting them do what they do best?
It is also a challenge that dares us to show what we are capable of.
For while it is true that the public service is not often recognised for its innovation, public servants have always innovated. As others have argued, much of the work of the public service is, and has always been, about introducing and driving change, and introducing or encouraging innovation by others.
That is not to say that innovation is easy for the public service. As the Agenda notes:
“It has often been easier for government to continue with the ways things have been done rather than embrace new technological opportunities. We are making government digital by default and opening up procurement and data to encourage innovation in Australian business.”
Innovation, and the initiatives to aid it within the Agenda, will require us to change how we operate. We will need to take risks. We will need to work in different ways with others. We will need to be more open than we sometimes want to be.
Yet we are not alone in this. As Secretary for the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science, I can say with some confidence that innovation is rarely easy for industry either. It can be hard for any organisation, whether a public sector agency or a private firm, to find the balance between holding on to what works now and exploring what can be done better in new ways. It can be hard to take risks and to potentially fail.
Innovation, therefore, is a shared challenge and something where industry and the public service can learn from each other. It is an area where we can both help each other.
This inaugural APS Innovation Snapshot then can be seen as a ‘down payment’ on the promise of the National Innovation and Science Agenda. It is where we in the public service share some of what we have been innovating on, a demonstration of how government agencies are working to embrace innovation. It is a sign of what might come of government as an exemplar.
The Snapshot does not catalogue every innovation or all of the many initiatives, policies and agendas that are in some way supporting innovation within the public service. Rather, it seeks to highlight some of the clever new things being done, show the benefits that innovation can bring, and illustrate why it is important for the public service to test, experiment, try (and sometimes fail) and try again.
I would like to thank the agencies, teams and individuals involved with the initiatives outlined in this Snapshot, as well as those involved with the many more not mentioned. It is the endeavours of such creative APS professionals that will build a robust and adaptive service capable of delivering world class public services; a service that can demonstrate that it has befriended volatility and does not view disruption as a disorderly foe.
I hope you find this report of as much interest as I did, and that you join me in looking forward to many more smart new things to come.
Glenys Beauchamp PSM
Department of Industry, Innovation and Science
Making an Innovative Public Service
How do we ensure innovation is embedded in our ‘core work’ and is not something ‘extra-curricular’ or viewed as ‘tinsel’ or ornamental?
These are questions I have been grappling with as Chair of the APS Innovation Champions Group – questions that I have found are shared by those in other agencies.
Of course we do know some things about embedding innovation. For instance, as per the National Innovation and Science Agenda, part of the answer is about being prepared to change our policies when they are not working. Part of it is, as the Prime Minister has said, is that “we need to take risks and be prepared at every stage to challenge the way we did things yesterday”. Part of it is learning new skills and trying out new things. Another part of the answer is working with others and leveraging their capabilities and strengths.
But we also know that there is no one answer, no single recipe that will ensure innovation is a routine part of how we work. The innovation process is nuanced and changeable.
This lack of a simple answer however only makes it more important that we learn from each other, from industry, and from other sectors facing similar challenges. Their experience can help us understand what may work and what may not.
That is why helping others to connect, to share and to learn from each other is a core part of the public sector innovation work being led by the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science.
This sharing can be seen in the work of the Public Sector Innovation Network, with some 2400 members from federal, state, territory and local government, and innovation practitioners from academia, not-for-profits, and commercial entities. In 2015, over 500 new members joined the Network, and introduction of Chapter Coordinators in September is further encouraging the development of the Network outside of Canberra.
Sharing is at the heart of the new Innovation Champions Group, which is connecting senior leaders as they construct stronger innovation systems within their respective departments. The Group provides a forum to share stories, engage in peer learning and identify nudges and interventions that might benefit the public sector innovation system as a whole.
Likewise, learning is fostered through Innovation Month, a series of events and activities that provide public servants with the opportunity to connect and to share. Innovation Month 2015, with its theme of Dream, Dare, Do, presented a programme of 73 events attracting over 6000 attendees to events with agencies sharing information, stories and resources across the APS.
This philosophy is reflected in the Innovation Snapshot itself. The Snapshot helps us share some of what is being done. It gives us a glimpse of what others are doing that we can learn from; to see where there may be common opportunities and challenges. I hope that it also helps show some of what is possible when the public service lets itself apply new thinking, new technology and new understanding to its work.
Sharing is fundamental to making the public service more innovative. So I encourage you to share your stories and experiences and what you have learnt from doing new things. Only through such sharing will doing new things and doing things in new ways become a regular and unquestioned part of how the public service works.
Deputy Secretary, Department of Industry, Innovation and Science
Chair, APS Innovation Champions Group
Highlights of 2015
National Innovation and Science Agenda
The National Innovation and Science Agenda will boost innovation and science in four key areas: culture and capital, collaboration, talent and skills, and Government as an exemplar. In particular, this last dimension will strengthen the drive for innovation in the public sector. “We will lead by example by becoming more innovative in how we deliver services and make data openly available to the public and make it easier for startups and innovative small businesses to sell technology services to government.”
New Ways of Working
2015 saw a number of examples of how the APS is exploring new ways of working. One example is the launch of the Digital Transformation Office with a mission to lead the transformation of government services to deliver a better experience for Australians. It has started work on a number of projects that will demonstrate rapid transformation, improve digital capabilities across agencies, and provide valuable lessons that can be shared across all tiers of government.
A second example is the establishment of the Behavioural Economics Team of the Australian Government (BETA) within the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.
Both of these initiatives will help strengthen the capability of the public service to explore new ways of doing things, to challenge traditional business models, and to see what works.
A Renewed Public Sector Innovation Agenda
In July 2015, departmental Secretaries endorsed a public sector innovation agenda emphasising:
- connecting public servants and sharing ideas and experiences about doing things differently
- initiatives for how the public service can share, develop, test, grow and recognise good ideas.
Public Sector Innovation Case Studies
The Snapshot includes an array of diverse case studies demonstrating how the public service is doing things differently. Case studies in 2015 have been grouped into four themes:
- Innovative service delivery
- Ideas for solving policy problems
- Disrupting and innovating APS corporate processes
- Engaging with possible futures.
Public Sector Innovation around the World
Australia is not alone in its work to strengthen capacity for innovation in the public service. This Snapshot identifies a number of common threads in 2015 from initiatives being undertaken in other countries. These trends included:
- A move towards introducing public sector innovation labs
- Equipping public servants with the skills, guidance and resources needed to innovate
- Digital public services.
Reflections on the Experience of Innovating
The practice of innovation is about people and about culture. Innovation can sometimes be a challenge for organisational culture when new ways of working are proposed, and the APS is working through issues such as risk averseness, process orientation, and dealing with uncertainty. The Public Sector Innovation team reflects on these issues.
Inaugural Innovation Snapshot
This is the first of an annual series of Innovation Snapshot publications highlighting some of what is being attempted and achieved across the APS. Further information about public sector innovation can be found on the Public Sector Innovation Toolkit or by subscribing to the Public Sector Innovation Network.
The APS Innovation Agenda
In July 2015, the Secretaries endorsed six initiatives to support and strengthen the Public Sector Innovation Network, and to strengthen the innovation ‘supply chain’ for the public service.
Strengthening the Public Sector Innovation Network
The Public Sector Innovation Network was established in 2009 as a small group to share information and experiences of innovation. As it has grown over subsequent years, the Network has had to evolve to meet the needs of its members.
To support the aims of sharing and connecting people, the Secretaries agreed to:
- Establish SES level innovation champions within each department, to act as liaison points and to share lessons and experiences.
- Affirm their support for the annual Innovation Month series of events and activities. Innovation Month provides a platform for agencies and staff to raise awareness and to build engagement with the innovation process and what it means for them.
- Support the Public Sector Innovation Network, including in locations outside of Canberra. This has led to the creation of Innovation Chapter contacts being established in other capital cities.
Strengthening the innovation ‘supply chain’
The public service always needs a ready stock of ideas and proposals that it can draw from. How can this ‘supply chain’ of ideas be nurtured so that there are always great ideas ready and available?
To ensure the public service has a constant source of novel but tested ideas, Secretaries agreed to the:
- Trial of a multi-agency collaboration platform for staff to share ideas. The trial has provided rich insights and consideration is being given to how to best support ideas being easily shared between agencies.
- Development of an ‘incubator’ for promising but untested ideas. Just as the private sector has processes for nurturing ideas, so too must the public sector. The public service has a number of processes that are doing elements of this, including the Digital Transformation Office, the innovationXchange and DataStart. Identifying what makes for a successful incubator, particularly for early stage ideas, is being investigated to help agencies and the APS navigate what might be appropriate for different sorts of ideas at different stages of development.
- Establishment of dedicated annual APS innovation awards to be run by the ACT Division of the Institute of Public Administration Australia to celebrate and recognise the innovation underway. The Innovation Awards will commence in 2016.
These initiatives build on previous steps, including the Public Sector Innovation Toolkit and Innovation Showcase, undertaken by the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science and supported by other APS agencies. The public sector innovation agenda connects with and supports other improvement agendas, such as digital transformation and public data policy.
APS Innovation Case Studies 2015
Innovation is a slippery concept, one that is inherently ambiguous. One person’s innovation is another’s incremental improvement. What is new and insightful for some, will be conventional for others. The best way to explain innovation then is to show it. The following case studies highlight some, but certainly not all, of the innovative activities happening across the APS.
Case studies identified in 2015 fitted into four broad themes:
- Innovative service delivery
- Ideas for solving policy problems
- Disrupting and innovating corporate processes
- Engaging with possible futures.
Theme 1: Innovative service delivery
How are the services that are delivered by the public service changing to suit the evolving needs of citizens and stakeholders? These examples demonstrate some of the work being done by agencies to make interaction with government easier, smoother and simpler.
The Digital Transformation Office
The Digital Transformation Office (DTO) was established as an executive agency in July 2015 and is part of the Prime Minister’s portfolio. Its mission is to lead the transformation of government services to deliver a better experience for Australians.
In any given month, one in eight Australians aged 14 and over will look up government information and services online[1. Boston Consulting Group 2014, 2014 Digital Government Survey Australian Fact-base], totalling around 324 million transactions a year. Of these people, more than half will experience a problem[2. Deloitte Access Economics 2015, ‘Digital transformation of government’ report commissioned by Adobe].
When people can find the information and services they need online, they have a better service experience, with less impact on their time and lower cost to government. Just as importantly, people shouldn’t need to understand how government is structured, in order to do what they need to do.
Meeting this challenge is vital to success as a government, and as a nation.
That’s why the DTO has been created - to work closely with government agencies, users and private sector partners to create public services that are simpler, faster, clearer and more humane.
The DTO is working closely with all tiers of government to identify where improvements are needed most, and to radically re-design these services from the ground up. The DTO is building digital expertise and capabilities across agencies to help create a world-class public service and a world-leading digital economy.
Since the DTO was established, it’s identified Digital Transformation Coordinators in almost 100 Commonwealth government agencies. It’s working closely with those agencies that have high-volume services, to prepare transformation plans. And has also delivered an alpha, then beta, version of the Digital Service Standard.
In October 2015, the DTO announced the first steps in its major programme of work to improve online government service delivery.
- Working a nine-week design process to create a GOV.AU prototype, with a vision that everyone who needs to use government services can find those services quickly and easily.
- Working with the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science, the Australian Tax Office, and Service NSW to grow the economy by helping Australians establish new businesses.
- Working with the Department of Immigration and Border Protection to improve processes for Australian businesses engaged in international trade.
- Partnering with the Department of Human Services to transform the way approximately 600,000 citizens register for Medicare each year.
- Collaborating with states and territories, including an initiative with the ACT Government to improve its public hospital outpatient appointment booking system to reduce wait times and overcrowding.
- All services will be designed to comply with the Digital Service Standard, using an agile four-stage service design process to deliver a working product over an initial 20-week time period.
These projects will demonstrate rapid transformation, improve digital capabilities across agencies, and provide valuable lessons that can be shared across all tiers of government.
Department of Industry, Innovation and Science’s Single Business Service - streamlining interaction with government
The Department of Industry, Innovation and Science is leading the Australian Government’s single business service agenda to transform the way government connects with and supports business. Reforms are making government services to business easier to find and understand, quicker and easier to access, and more tailored to business needs.
Businesses have struggled to access government services and navigate the wealth of government information to find what they need or who to talk to. The department is listening to this feedback and improving its services to make it easier for businesses to get help at a time and place that suits them. Businesses can now find and access government services through one website (business.gov.au), one contact centre (13 28 46) and the AusIndustry national outreach network.
As part of this reform agenda, the department is undertaking the single business service programme of work to invest in new capabilities and enhance its service delivery to meet business needs.
The department will begin using a ‘tell us once’ approach and will pre-fill and reuse information it already knows about a business. The administration of grants will move from a primarily paper-based process to a digital end-to-end process.
A new business.gov.au website will learn what a business is looking for and suggest other relevant areas of interest. This will make it quicker and easier for businesses to get the information they are looking for and discover new information they didn’t know they needed.
Businesses will be able to log in to an online portal to see where their application is up to or when their next progress report is due, giving a business the flexibility to self-serve.
The department conducted user research to ensure that the programme of work is designed around user needs, this included talking to businesses and front line staff.
The Single Business Service team is taking an agile approach to the service delivery. User needs are regularly validated and revised throughout the programme of work, with the team delivering working verified solutions every four weeks and adjusting priorities based on user feedback. This is a change from the traditional approach of long term project planning and delivery. It shifts focus from delivering project outputs to a user-centric focus on delivering outcomes and benefits.
This agile approach is being used on all aspects of Single Business Service delivery, not just implementing the technical solutions, and has the potential to be used more broadly in government service delivery. The agile, user-centric approach to transforming government services constitutes not only a different delivery process, but also a different service mentality and a cultural shift from the traditional focus on tasks and outputs.
The Australian Tax Office's MyTax, improving government services to the public
The Australian Tax Office's (ATO) myTax system is a wholly online service that streamlines tax returns for individuals with simple to medium complexity tax affairs. MyTax is part of the ATO’s online services and was first released in July 2014 (initially for those with simpler tax affairs). Once logged into the system through myGov, the taxpayer’s personal details and most income is pre-filled, streamlining the process of completing the tax return. MyTax is available on mobile devices such as tablets and phones as well as desktop computers.
The system was initially developed over a twelve month period including extensive co-design sessions with clients to ensure usability. The project required the cooperation of numerous teams across the ATO and acted as a silo-busting mechanism as well.
MyTax has proven to be an excellent 'red tape saver' for the public, it's possible to complete a tax return in five minutes, and offers a productivity saving estimated at $150 million for Australians. In July 2015 a new version was released expanding eligibility to those with medium complexity tax affairs and further personalising and streamlining the return process. In July 2016, myTax will be available to any individual who wishes to prepare their own return, completely replacing the legacy e-tax system.
Department of Industry, Innovation and Science’s Energy Rating Labels – adapting with a changing world
Energy Rating Labels have been displayed on major household appliances in-store since the 90’s. The label is well recognised in the community and allows a consumer to compare the energy efficiency of similar sized appliances.
The label communicates the energy efficiency of an appliance through the use of stars as well as displaying the energy consumption. The more stars the less electricity used which results in lower running costs.
With more people purchasing their appliance online and not visiting a physical store, there was a need to make the energy rating label available on online shopping sites. The Energy Rating Team responsible for the initiative prepared a suite of Energy Rating Icons with simplified versions of the label for retailers to use online and in print advertising. The team decided that the best approach to release the Icons was to include them in the energy rating data and make the datasets publicly available on http://www.data.gov.au/ for use by online retailers and other third parties. Using an Application Programming Interface, retailers can integrate the data into their websites, linking products directly to their corresponding Energy Rating Icon and star rating. Additional code has also been developed to display energy consumption figures on the Icons.
The result has been retailers using the data to display the Energy Rating Icon on their shopping websites. This means consumers have access to energy efficiency information when they need it – at the point of purchase.
The programme is continuing to engage with retailers and other third parties selling appliances online to display the Energy Rating Icon on their websites.
Further, through GovHack, a group of developers utilised the public dataset to design the Energy Rating App. This mobile app makes it easy to estimate and compare the running costs of appliances that display an energy rating label.
The energy rating label is part of a broader Commonwealth, State and New Zealand initiative that aims to improve the energy efficiency of appliances sold in Australia and New Zealand.
A key objective of the programme is to reduce energy bills for householders and businesses in a cost effective way by driving improvements to the energy efficiency of new appliances. Further, the programme seeks to reduce appliance energy consumption and related greenhouse gas emissions.
Theme 2: Ideas for solving policy problems
How might the public service work differently to generate and access new and different ideas for solving policy problems? These examples show how innovation can apply to the policy process and how the public service can approach policy problems differently.
Policy Hack on innovation – experimenting with the policy process
How might the policy process evolve to suit a more iterative, fast paced and interconnected world? On October 17 2015, over 120 people came together to apply a hackathon approach to the topic of innovation policy. Organised by the Assistant Minister for Innovation, the Hon. Wyatt Roy MP, the startup accelerator BlueChilli and the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science, the policy hack was an experiment in opening up policy development.
Participants worked as part of ten groups around ten themes distilled from ideas submitted online to the OurSay platform about how to strengthen the national innovation system. Public servants from a number of agencies participated as facilitators, providing advice on existing initiatives, implementation issues, and what might be feasible in the policy process.
Participants had to pitch resulting ideas at the end of the day to a panel of judges. The top pitches included one proposing to boost entrepreneurship among primary school aged students and one expanding the New Enterprise Incentive Scheme (NEIS) to foster startups.
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s innovationXchange – building new ideas and finding opportunities
In 2015 the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) established the innovationXchange. The object of the innovationXchange is to catalyse and support innovation across the Australian aid programme. It focuses on new partnerships, modalities and approaches to leveraging existing capabilities and delivering greater development impact.
The innovationXchange itself provides an environment to trial, test and prototype ideas, providing an evidence bank for other areas in the department and across government to adopt.
Activities facilitated by the innovationXchange have included running an Ideas Challenge for suggestions on how the department could better achieve its objectives. The Challenge received 392 submissions from portfolio staff, 10 of which were pitched to a high-level judging panel at an event in June 2015. Two winners were selected and are being supported with time and resources to further develop and pilot their ideas.
The innovationXchange will also be running a $3 million Blue Economy Aquaculture Challenge in 2016. The Challenge will seek to develop aquaculture technologies and systems that grow economies, improve the lives of poor people and achieve positive environmental and social impacts. “By thoughtfully opening up organisational and industry-wide challenges to the masses, we can unleash the creative potential that has the promise to make a lasting positive impact as people contribute their talents to issues they care deeply about. The result is faster, better and cheaper solutions.”
Details of other projects and partnerships can be found on the innovationXchange website.
Department of Employment’s work in future automation
A key factor that will influence employment over the coming decades is the development of more sophisticated and capable robots that will be able to take on more and more roles currently performed by people.
The prospect of disruptive changes in the workplace, stemming from the introduction of faster and better robots, offers immense opportunities for new jobs, as well as presenting the risk of job displacement. The scope and nature of many current jobs will change radically and overall economic efficiency and productivity will rise if the diffusion of technology is managed constructively.
Technological diffusion speeds up our work processes, lowers costs and lifts productivity. It alters the nature of our existing work and it allows us to do more with less. Two inevitable consequences are:
- The disappearance of some jobs is a reality as the nature of work changes. The Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA) predicts that in the next five to ten years some five million jobs will be at risk in Australia—accounting for 40 per cent of all current jobs
- There is great potential for the creation of new jobs. This will depend partly on how effectively we capitalise on the opportunities as individuals and firms.
With technological disruptions there will inevitably be winners (the appropriately skilled workers and savvy entrepreneurs) and losers (such as those who lack relevant skills). Wages are likely to fall in those areas that will be displaced by technological progress and rise in those areas with appropriately-skilled workers. Under‑employment may result in the short term.
The Department of Employment’s Future of Work project is monitoring these developments to provide policy advice to ensure Australia’s work force remains competitive in the future.
The need for soft skills, such as interpersonal communication, motivation and teamwork, is likely to become greater as work becomes more automated. Also as the new economy shifts to one with more self-employed, highly skilled freelance workers, traditional employment relationships may change. And finally, the increasing use of digital platforms and the rapid developments in Information and Communications Technology will provide a suite of opportunities for the public service to engage, collaborate and work better with businesses, the community sector and the Australian people.
Theme 3: Disrupting and innovating corporate processes
How might the corporate processes and operating procedures of the APS need to change? The following case studies highlight some of the ways that agencies are innovating and exploring how processes might shift. Examples include reimagining how ideas are shared across agencies, how a culture of innovation is developed, and new ways of working with partners.
Department of Industry, Innovation and Science and Department of Finance APS Innovation Hub trial – creating a pool of whole-of-government ideas
The Department of Industry, Innovation and Science in collaboration with the Department of Finance has been testing an ‘APS Innovation Hub’; a whole of APS ideas management system. The platform allows staff from different agencies to share and collaborate on ideas on how the public service might do things differently, or to simply share ideas that have already been successfully implemented and could be applied more broadly.
The trial has involved several hundred public servants and has proved a worthwhile opportunity to explore questions such as:
- How might staff APS officers share ideas across agencies?
- What types of ideas are suitable for sharing?
- Does a platform like this encourage like-minded officers to connect and develop ideas?
The trial is helping build a better picture of what is needed for staff to share and collaborate on ideas. The trial has also provided a source of inspiration for the Innovation Champions Group which is collaborating on the development of two of the ideas.
Department of Employment’s Innovation Framework –a co-designed innovation culture
The Department of Employment’s Innovation Framework is an important part of being forward looking, one of the pillars of its Strategic Plan.
The Framework was co-designed by departmental staff though a conversation across the department to establish a common definition and understanding of innovation and create shared tools and processes for practising it.
Conducted during Innovation Month 2015, the co-design process included face-to-face and online brainstorming, intrapreneurship sessions and a two-day workshop. This ‘ground up’ process tapped into the Department’s breadth and depth of creativity and left staff buzzing with ideas.
The co-designed Framework was validated through online comments and a focus group before being endorsed by the Executive and launched in October 2015.
The Framework outlines 14 priority actions for the first year and focusses on five key areas:
- Idea generation campaigns
- Collaborative leadership and innovative governance
- Connecting people and resources
- Productive work environments and tools, and
- Incentives, recognition and celebration.
The co-design process required the Department to embrace the discomfort of looking at things differently and trying something new. Through the process the Department’s staff learnt as they went, building their capability in design thinking, co-design and calculated risk-taking. A benefit of this process is that the Framework is already owned and championed by staff of the Department.
Future plans for the Framework include establishing a dedicated implementation team, embedding governance structures, discussing innovation in senior leadership meetings and creating physical and virtual spaces that enable collaboration for innovative thinking to flourish.
The department will also focus on developing tools for the generation, development and implementation of ideas supported by an ideas management system. Acknowledging that innovation is a continuous process, the Innovation Framework will be reviewed and updated mid-2016.
Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet – Datastart
DataStart is a data-driven project that aims to address why Australian startups are not using open government data in innovative ways to generate new business, develop new products and services, and create social value. Through non-traditional mechanisms, DataStart will create new opportunities for Australian tech startups to develop sustainable business solutions through access to open government data.
Rather than undertake a traditional multi-year process, the Government will work with startups, incubators and big corporates in an agile pilot project that leverages each partner’s expertise to deliver cost effective and innovative digital services. Government and established corporations can provide startups with access to essential resources, funding and distribution channels to help them grow and scale faster. Similarly, government, like big business, can learn from incubator and startup methodology.
DataStart will use disruptive processes to test whether the private sector can deliver services traditionally provided by Government (usually at significant cost), with the only service required by Government being the supply of quality data.
The initiative is also an important opportunity to increase awareness about Commonwealth information and its potential for innovation and economic development. Rather than traditional one-way communications focussed on providing information to the public, we are creating opportunities for two-way dialogue with the startup community through the use social media and other online platforms. Using these mechanisms, over traditional publicity and awareness‑raising activities, allows us to engage the industry more effectively and in a medium that they use.
Department of Human Services – Better Service Delivery
The Department of Human Services (DHS) is developing an innovation programme which will drive innovation across the department by embedding innovative work practices into local business processes. The department launched ‘Hack the Future’, a national Welfare Payments Infrastructure Transformation (WPIT) innovation competition designed to support the next phase of their digital transformation journey. The competition encourages new ways of working together and the development of ideas which compete in a Dragons’ Den style competition. The prize for the winning idea is a rapid incubation and development sprint through the department’s design hubs.
The first competition was launched in July 2015 as part of Innovation Month and saw staff across the department take up the challenge to participate in a hot house innovation day, forming 35 teams in 19 locations across Australia on 30 July. Five Senior Executive staff reviewed the 35 submissions and narrowed the field to 16 ideas which were taken to the department’s all-SES Forum in October 2015 where the Dragons’ Den took place.
To ensure the spirit of innovation continues to grow, the department is running a series of design-led Innovation Forums around the country, focusing on building the ongoing culture of innovation and developing innovation skills within staff. The forums further develop ideas gathered through the 'Hack the Future' competition, encouraging staff to innovate on local and national challenges. The events also provide invaluable insight for staff into the department’s WPIT journey, where innovation will define the future. The Innovation Forums involve staff from APS 1 to EL2 level to ensure all staff have a voice in shaping the Departments digital transformation.
The aim of the Innovation Programme is to make it easier for ideas about improving services to flow between staff and leaders, giving promising ideas space and time to be matured and better recognise innovation where it already occurs.
Theme 4: Engaging with Possible Futures
How might the work of the public service need to change because of emerging technologies or to deal with very different possible futures? The following snippets highlight some of the work being done to engage with possible futures, including looking at machine learning, and simulating or speculating about different possible scenarios.
IP Australia's Cognitive Computing Project - improving services with intelligent machines
IP Australia has significantly increased its online services uptake for transactions from 12 per cent in 2012, to now over 97 per cent today. This has been a conscious effort by IP Australia to move to new and more efficient service delivery in line with the push across the public sector and IP Australia’s own longer term vision to modernise our work structure and reduce red tape for our customers. With over 500 000 service requests made to IP Australia annually the agency is exploring new technologies to improve its service delivery in a highly regulated area.
In 2015 IP Australia ran a 12 week Cognitive Value Assessment using Watson, a cognitive computer from IBM that can sift through disparate data for patterns to provide insight.
The trial developed a proof of concept prototype that used the machine to identify if a potential Trade Mark was acceptable or not on the basis of relevant case law.
Future potential applications of cognitive machines and machine learning for IP Australia include a virtual assistant for businesses that could be online 24/7 to respond to customer queries. The agency is also seeking to share information with other government agencies trialling cognitive solutions.
IP Australia, not being the only agency that relies on extensive data research to service the public, foresees that the APS will be able to take advantage of the improved technology in the coming years.
Department of Agriculture and Water Resource's Australian Animal and Disease Model - better safety with better information
The Australian Animal DISease (AADIS) model is the result of three years of collaboration between the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources and the University of New England (UNE). AADIS enables the spread of animal diseases to be studied at a national scale, assisting policy and programme officers to plan and respond to serious livestock disease threats like foot and mouth disease.
The challenge was to produce a software solution that would address the needs of managers in terms of capturing the disease epidemiology, regional variability in transmission (e.g. due to different livestock movement patterns) and jurisdictional approaches to control, in a computationally efficient manner.
The model incorporates a number of innovative design features that allow it to run complex national-scale simulations efficiently on a standard laptop or desktop computer. It can be used to support policy development and as a training tool for emergency animal disease planning and response. The model provides a good example of the use of state-of-the-art decision-support tools within the public sector.
The Attorney-General’s Department Garran Strategy Series – exploring plausible futures
How will radicalisation evolve over the next five years in Australia? In 2030, what role will non-state actors play in international law? How should government position itself to respond to these issues?
These are some of the complex challenges discussed in the Garran Strategy Series, a series of high level discussions named after the department’s first secretary that facilitate forward thinking and strategic planning on issues relevant to the Attorney-General’s portfolio .
Developed as part of the department’s ‘Year of Innovation and Creativity’, the series brings together APS Senior Executive and invited guests from across government, non-government organisations, peak bodies, academia and the private sector to enable integrated policy development on complex, cross-cutting matters and contribute to effective responses to future risks.
Each session culminates in a facilitated discussion based on a real-world policy problem and predicted ‘plausible futures’ scenarios. Fast-forwarding five to fifty years in the future, participants challenge present day assumptions and policy directions, qualify current approaches, and determine gaps in policy responses.
A key component of each session is a stakeholder workshop, where APS6 to EL2 level representatives from participating organisations come together to develop the future scenario that will inform the final discussion. In addition to being a useful source of research and information, workshops develop creative thinking and strategic planning capabilities, and enhance collaboration between officers.
There have been five sessions of the series so far, tackling topics as varied as ‘The Radicalisation of Australians in Offshore Conflicts’, ‘The Family Law Act and the Changing Shape of the Family’ and ‘Addressing Corporate Crime in the 21st Century’. Outcomes from these sessions have added new dimensions to policy development and strengthened stakeholder engagement. Based on the success of these sessions, the series will continue on a regular basis, providing an innovative approach to the future policy challenges facing the Attorney-General’s portfolio.
The International Context – What’s happening elsewhere?
Australia is not alone in its efforts to encourage public sector innovation. Other countries are also working to strengthen their capability to do things differently and to apply new thinking to old and novel problems. The APS can learn from these endeavours as well as from its own. The following details some of the main observed trends, and additional information can be found on the Innovation Blog.
Public sector and social innovation labs are continuing to grow and develop, as was clearly seen from the annual global innovation lab gathering, LabWorks 2015, held in London in July 2015. Labs are platforms for trying new approaches, bringing to bear different methodologies and perspectives to problems, and working in new ways with citizens and stakeholders. Labs can contribute new insights that allow for problem areas to be seen in different ways, revealing alternate options for how to proceed.
A number of countries have now introduced innovation labs, including England, the United States, Singapore, Sweden, Chile, France, Israel, Canada, Denmark, and Northern Ireland to name a few.
Equipping Public Servants
A number of countries have been working to equip their public servants with the skills, guidance or resources needed to apply different approaches. This ranges in scope between countries. One example is the United Arab Emirates that is committing one per cent of its federal budget to support innovation in the public sector, introducing trained Chief Executive Officers for Innovation, and creating a Centre for Government Innovation to encourage and motivate innovation and making tools available.
In the United States, there has been encouragement for agencies to apply behavioural insights, backed up with the establishment of the Social and Behavioral Sciences Team which will provide agencies with guidance and advice. An Open Innovation Toolkit is being developed, with the first module ‘Citizen Science and Crowdsourcing Toolkit’ already released. Recent times have also seen the growing use of competitions and challenge prizes, including for the development of low-cost software and IT solutions, for supporting entrepreneurship and commercialisation, and new models for engaging the public and building communities.
The United Kingdom is working on an Open Policy Making Toolkit covering topics such as involving the public in policy making, getting a quick overview of a new policy area, connecting with top experts, using data better and ensuring that policy works in the real world. The United Kingdom has also established the What Works Network, aiming to improve the way government and other organisations create, share and use high quality evidence for decision-making.
Digital Public Service
A number of governments are working to make their public services ‘digital’. Examples include the work of the Government Digital Service in the United Kingdom, as well as 18F and the Digital Service in the United States. In Malaysia, a government lab is analysing data from across agencies and testing new ways of using the data to improve public services (including analysing public mood on taxation), and an online course on data science is underway for civil servants.
Reflections from the Public Sector Innovation Team
What is it like to innovate within the public service? If we wish to encourage innovation, we should try to understand what the lived experience of those trying new approaches is.
To do so, it is worth reflecting on some of the aspects of the working environment for public servants. What are the cultural aspects of the public service that shape and influence how we, public servants, work?
Firstly, the public service is a hierarchical environment where we are conditioned to look upwards and to seek approval. This is for all sorts of reasons (many sound, some questionable). As public servants, we need to ensure that plans are endorsed, that briefs are cleared, that facts and talking points are checked.
Secondly, the public service is a rules-based environment where we are conditioned to make sure we have ticked all the relevant boxes. We need to check procedural steps, to check who can approve or sign-off on what, to check with coordination or corporate areas to see whether or how rules haves changed (or if the interpretation has changed).
Thirdly, the public service is an environment of professionals. As public servants we are expected to be, and expect ourselves to be, knowledgeable and to have expertise. We expect to know the answer, to be good at what we do. This expectation of knowledge and expertise is not only about subject matter, but also covers processes and stakeholders and the operating environment in which we work. We are supposed to know exactly what we are doing and how it should be done.
Yet these characteristics can sit uncomfortably with innovation and with how the operating environment of the public service is changing. Three manifestations of this tension are to do with risk, uncertainty, and being unsure.
The public service has traditionally been solidly risk averse. While there are risk takers, the general tolerance for risk is low. Risk management frameworks are pervasive, though not always accompanied by recognition that some risks will have minimal consequences. Risk is viewed as something to be avoided, rather than as the necessary flipside of grasping opportunities.
Innovation involves risk – such as the risk that something may not go as planned or worse, that something may go wrong or receive unwanted attention or scrutiny.
So it can be difficult to be innovative at the same time as being risk averse, especially if you do not have the necessary knowledge to quantify or reduce risk, or if you do not have the opportunity or safe spaces in which to engage with risk in a way that limits possible consequences.
The public service has a mixed relationship with uncertainty. The public service has an attachment to rules, precedents, protocols and processes. The work of the public service is often about reducing uncertainty and creating repeatable processes. We like dealing with the known. Yet, the public service can also be very good in a crisis, in mobilising resources and people to get things done in short time frames in a context of high uncertainty. The public service operates in a political environment that can be uncertain, one where changes of policy direction or responsibilities can happen quickly. The public service is adept at machinery of government changes. Few policy or service delivery areas have not been confronted with large uncertainties at some time.
Of course knowing that something can happen is not the same as wanting it to happen. Public servants are very aware that many politicians and senior leaders are surprise averse even if they are not risk averse. Yet uncertainty means there will be some surprises.
Innovation is, by definition, uncertain. It involves doing something new, and that involves experimentation, testing, trial and error, and learning.
So it can be difficult to be innovative if you are trying to avoid uncertainty, especially if you do not have the capacity or the freedom to try something and see what happens.
The notion of professionalism brings to mind words such as knowledge, skill, competence and judgement. It is about knowing what and how to do things. The public service is very much a professional culture where people identify and value professionalism.
Yet innovation – being risky and being uncertain – often involves being unsure. Innovation involves trying new things, applying new skills or techniques to different situations. Innovation often means admitting that you do not have the answers. Innovation involves being vulnerable – of putting your ideas out for others to judge, or admitting that current practices are not as good as they need to be.
So it can be difficult to be innovative if you feel uncomfortable being unsure in an environment of professionalism where subject matter and process expertise is valued and rewarded.
Yet what we consistently see in our role in supporting the Public Sector Innovation Network is public servants who are passionate, who are practical and who are persistent. We see people who are willing to give it a go and who have the faith that there is a better way of doing things.
The Public Sector Innovation Team works to connect people, to share, and to explore ways in which the public service can engage with risk, with uncertainty and with being unsure.
What we repeatedly see from the Network is the value that comes from connecting public servants with colleagues or with external partners or practitioners who may have done something similar or something that inspires them.
Innovation is unlikely to ever be easy. But by sharing, by connecting and by finding ways to tap into the ideas, experiences and insights of others, we may be able to make it easier for public servants to show what they are capable of.
Alex Roberts, Innovation Advocate
Rob Thomas, Communications Officer
Public Sector Innovation Team
Department of Industry, Innovation and Science
This Innovation Snapshot report shows the APS's existing capacity to experiment, its recognition of the need for change, and its appetite for innovation. It demonstrates that the public service can be home to adaptation, agility and innovation, and that it has the willingness to engage with change.
Of course more will need to be done over time – innovation is an evolving practice and it is not possible to ‘set and forget’ a single approach to innovation. The work being done within individual agencies and across the APS will help ensure that there is ongoing iteration and adaptation.
The public service can be a major contributor to a more innovative Australia – as a source of bold ideas, as an implementer, as a partner, as a regulator and as a custodian. It can lead by example.
This Innovation Snapshot highlights that the APS is working to make sure that it can play its part.
If you would like to keep up to date with the public sector innovation work, you can do so via:
- The Public Sector Innovation Toolkit
- A subscription to the Public Sector Innovation Network
- The @PSInnovate Twitter account.
Additionally the next Innovation Month series of events and activities will be held in July 2016 and is open to involvement from public servants and partners. Get in touch with the psi [at] industry.gov.au (subject: Innovation%20Month%202016) (Public Sector Innovation Team) if you would like to know more.