Organising for innovation

Rendered Concept Of A Organization Chart Word Cloud This section provides some information for those who have been given responsibility for developing an innovation strategy or initiative for their organisation.

Agency principles

Much of the framework for action on innovation in agencies is laid out in the report Empowering Change: Fostering Innovation in the Australian Public Service. The report also identified some principles to guide agencies. Ten guiding principles for building innovation in public sector agencies

  1. Integrate innovation into an agency’s strategy and planning: what are the agency’s key priorities and challenges, what opportunities do they present for innovation, and how can the need for innovation and its attendant risk be communicated internally and externally.
  2. Foster and attract innovative people: seek to recruit and nurture people who are motivated to innovate and have relevant skills and capacities.
  3. Tap into the ideas and experience of stakeholders: build an organisation capable and desirous of interacting with partners, customers and citizens and draw on their innovative potential.
  4. Develop organisational capacity to facilitate and manage innovation: build expertise and experience in managing innovation in a public sector environment and work to identify and address any unnecessary impediments to innovation that may exist.
  5. Provide ‘safe spaces’: areas and programs where innovation can be channelled, where experimentation is expected and where ‘failures’ are regarded as legitimate. These spaces should be explicitly identified as testing grounds for ideas that can be expected to carry implementation and political risks.
  6. Facilitate networking: build communities of practice and networks of trust within and without the APS by which to share experiences of innovation, build partnerships and learn from others.
  7. Build a supportive culture: reward and encourage innovation and give agency staff both the means and the permission to innovate.
  8. Use government’s influence and advantages to spur innovation: use the government’s procurement power, its role as a regulator and its leverage with other jurisdictions to develop and realise innovative solutions.
  9. Measure and evaluate your results and share what you learn: monitor the return on your innovation investment and evaluate the outcomes; sharing such learning across the public sector will improve the quality and speed of the innovation process.
  10. Make public information accessible: public sector information and data is a valuable resource for innovation, both internally and externally to the APS and therefore publicly funded data sets should be publicly available unless there is a good reason for confidentiality.

The guiding principles identify how innovation can be harnessed and promoted by public sector agencies. To reap the benefits of innovation, agencies will need to take positive and proactive steps. They will need to communicate that some problems will not be able to be solved without risk, and work with the government and stakeholders and clients on acceptable ways of tolerating those risks. However, each agency has its own circumstances and pressures and will need to tailor action to its specific culture and context. Much depends on culture, attitudes and behaviours, and changes to those will only take root over time.

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Agency innovation checklist

The following checklist provides a pointer to some of the main things that agencies should consider arising from Empowering Change, the associated APS 200 project and the APS Innovation Action Plan.


  • Is innovation included in the organisation’s strategy and performance?
  • Would staff have a clear idea of how they are expected to contribute to the agency’s innovation process?
  • Does the agency’s strategic processes include foresighting activity to identify upcoming issues that may require innovative responses?


  • Is there a process in place by which staff can identify and address barriers to engagement with stakeholders?
  • Does the policy development process allow for external experts to be involved and to give input to new policy processes?


  • For innovative initiatives, is there a framework for identifying associated risks and the risk thresholds of relevant stakeholders?
  • Does the agency have identified mechanisms for actively managing the risks associated with innovative approaches?
  • Is the Portfolio Minister involved in discussion of the risks associated with significant innovations?


  • Is innovation (and the encouragement of) an explicit part of the performance agreements of the agency’s Senior Executive Service?
  • Does the agency’s performance measurements systems include innovation?
  • When an innovative initiative is introduced, does the agency clearly articulate the case for the innovation to potential users and stakeholders?


  • Is the Public Sector Innovation Toolkit linked to and supported in the agency’s guidance on innovation?

Mechanism of Challenge

  • Has the agency established and publicly identified an open process by which staff and members of the public can flag relevant barriers to innovation?
  • Does the agency have in place a means to assess, prioritise and resolve (as appropriate) barriers to innovation that are identified?


  • Has the agency considered how specific innovation initiatives can be funded where they do not fit within business as usual parameters?


  • Does the agency have an explicit ideas management system?
  • Has the agency considered how relevant external stakeholder groups may be able to contribute ideas to the agency?


  • Are agency staff aware of relevant procurement regulations that may allow the procurement of innovation?
  • Are agency staff aware of relevant contacts within finance areas who may provide guidance and advice on innovative procurement?
  • Are agency staff aware of relevant mechanism (such as portals and stage gating) utilised by organisations to better facilitate innovation procurement?

Developing and Sustaining

  • Does the agency participate in the Agency Innovation Network (run by the Department of Industry, Innovation, Climate Change, Science, Research and Tertiary Education)?
  • Has the agency provided examples of innovative or Gov 2.0 initiatives to the Public Sector Innovation Showcase?


  • Has the agency put forward relevant innovative examples to the Institute of Public Administration Australia for the Prime Minister’s Awards for Excellence in Public Sector Management?
  • Does the agency have in place internal innovation awards (perhaps as part of existing Australia Day Awards processes)?
  • Does the agency have in place, or collaborate with other agencies in holding, annual events to discuss, share and celebrate public sector innovation?

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Agency innovation network

The Department of Industry also supports an agency network of innovation facilitators. If you have been given responsibility for innovation or are working to bring innovation about in your agency, please email us at psi [at] (subject: Organising%20for%20innovation) .

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