Mechanism of Challenge

Word impossible transformed into possible.

What is a mechanism of challenge?

A mechanism of challenge refers to processes or mechanisms that allow issues or problems within an organisation to be identified and challenged. In an innovation context, it refers to being able to challenge processes or policies that may be stopping an innovative idea of merit from being investigated, tried or implemented. The ability to challenge current practices and processes within the public sector has existed for some time. For example, the Commonwealth Ombudsman considers and investigates complaints from people who believe they have been treated unfairly or unreasonably by an Australian Government department or agency. There are also more specific mechanisms such as the Administrative Appeals Tribunal which provides independent review of a wide range of administrative decisions made by the Australian government and some non-government bodies. Within agencies, there are often processes or mechanisms that allow staff or the public to raise an issue or grievance for review. Other avenues such as appeals to the relevant Minister or the press are available as mechanisms for issues to be considered and where appropriate, challenged. However, mechanisms of challenge within an agency context are generally not targeted to innovation. As such, those seeking to challenge innovation inhibiting decisions and processes are reliant on policies and architectures that were not designed for these purposes. Yet the processes and policies of agencies can have unexpected consequences that may stop potentially beneficial ideas from being implemented.

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How does a mechanism of challenge help the innovation process?

The innovation process can be assisted by allowing barriers to the application of innovative ideas to be challenged and dealt with. A mechanism of challenge can help most stages of the innovation process though it will likely have the greatest impact on the selection and implementation phases of the process.

  • Idea generation (finding, adapting or creating the ideas) – Idea generation can be limited by what people think will be possible or feasible. Having a process which recognises that potential barriers to innovation are open to challenge can assist in opening up the ideas generation process and consideration of a diverse range of options
  • Idea selection (picking which ideas to use) – A mechanism of challenge can help ensure that good ideas are not filtered out prematurely. Knowing that there is an alternate process by which ideas and decisions can be re-considered will help ensure that line area management fully considers new ideas and issues and potential barriers to innovation
  • Idea implementation (putting the ideas into practice) – Many barriers to the successful implementation of a specific innovation may not reveal themselves until the idea is actually being implemented. It can be difficult to predict what issues may arise as the idea is new and has not been done before. A mechanism of challenge can assist the implementation by ensuring that unexpected issues that arise can be identified and challenged
  • Sustaining ideas (keeping the ideas going) – A mechanism of challenge is unlikely to affect the sustaining phase of the innovation process
  • Idea diffusion (spreading the ideas and the insights about them) – The application of ideas that have been implemented elsewhere can be quite complex as it can be difficult to identify what parts of the idea can be replicated and applied elsewhere. A mechanism of challenge can assist the diffusion process by creating an opportunity to identify potential changes to their processes in order for the successful implementation of the idea.
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What does a Mechanism of Challenge involve?

A mechanism of challenge may take a number of forms, or involve several different elements. Below are some possible forms that a mechanism of challenge can take. Many agencies will already have some of these mechanisms in place, however they may not be tailored to the question of innovation.

  • Ideas Management Systems
  • Direct approach (e.g. CEO chat)
  • Restructuring
  • Workplace relations processes
  • Whistle blowing processes
  • Ministerial intervention
  • Administrative mechanisms (e.g. Administrative Appeals Tribunal)
  • Innovation champion
  • External contact point
  • Blogs
  • Suggestion Box
  • Inquiries, Reviews and reform processes
  • Management processes
  • Ombudsmen/External scrutiny
  • Specific taskforce
  • Sector specific mechanism (e.g. Tax Issues Entry System)
  • Experimentation and collaboration teams
  • Complaints process

A mechanism of challenge may be externally facing or internal (or both).

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Potential Problems

The following points are some possible problems that may be encountered in operating an innovation-related mechanism of challenge.

  • Expectations – participants may have unrealistic expectations as to what can be challenged or changed. Some processes may be in place for very good reason even though they impact on the innovation process. Other issues may relate to more to Government policy than administrative questions and thus be out of scope or need explicit endorsement by the Government.
  • Grievances – the process is used for grievances rather than issues relating to innovation.

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Desirable Mechanism of Challenge Features

The exact form of an agency’s mechanism of challenge should be tailored to the agency’s needs and considerations. However, the below are some core features that may assist in the development of a mechanism.

  1. An avenue or platform for receiving challenges to existing processes
  2. A means to assess and prioritise the issues as they are submitted
  3. A decision process for deciding the response
  4. (As needed) A process to coordinate inter and intra agency response
  5. A mechanism for authorising action (e.g. by the Executive, Minister(s) or others)
  6. Implementation/ Response and communication back to the petitioner

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Links with Ideas Management Systems

Ideas management systems can be used as mechanisms of challenge by allowing people to put forward suggestions on how policies and processes are stopping an innovative idea. An agency may wish to consider using any ideas management systems they have as a de facto mechanism of challenge. If this is done, this function should be made explicit in the ideas management systems coverage and the ideas management systems processes examined to ensure that they can deal with any ‘challenges’ that come through the system.

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Checklist

The following is a checklist of issues that might be considered before implementing a mechanism of challenge.

Prior to Introduction

  • Is the scope of the mechanism clear and explicit? (e.g. is it clear what it will not cover)
  • How will issues identified through the mechanism be dealt with and link with existing decision making processes?

Communication

  • Is there a communication strategy for promoting the system?
  • Does the communication strategy identify why this is being done and what will happen to issues raised, and the timeframe for responses?
  • Will the responses be made public?

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Further Reading

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Mechanism of Challenge Examples

Australian Government Australian Taxation Office – Tax Issues Entry System

The Tax Issues Entry System (TIES) is a website that gives people the opportunity to raise issues relating to the care and maintenance of the Australian Government’s tax and superannuation systems in a transparent way. Care and maintenance issues include making sure that the existing law operates in the way it was intended, by correcting technical or drafting defects, removing anomalies and addressing unintended outcomes. A working group of the Board of Taxation provides private sector input to the analysis and prioritisation of TIES issues, and the website notes that possible law changes will be subject to the government’s other legislative priorities. Issues raised and the respective responses are noted on the website’s register of issues.

UK Government Red Tape Challenge

The UK Government has established an online platform to look at regulations (excluding those relating to national security and taxation) sector by sector and those that are cross-sectoral. Members of the public and businesses are invited to comment on regulations and how/whether they work and whether they could be simplified or scrapped. After that the relevant Ministers have three months to identify which regulations they want to keep and why, with the default presumption that burdensome regulations will go.

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