State of the Service Report 2010-11 - Innovation and Efficiency Findings

On 24 November the Australian Public Service Commission (APSC) tabled the 2010-11 State of the Service (SoS) Report in Parliament, the latest in a series of annual reports examining the status of the Australian Public Service (APS) and any emerging trends.  The findings of the report are based on a voluntary employee questionnaire and a mandatory agency questionnaire sent to all major APS agencies.  The full report can be found on the APSC website.

The 2010-11 Report gives a detailed overview of innovation and efficiency in the APS (Chapter 9 of the report).  The data underpinning this chapter was derived from an expanded set of innovation questions in both the employee and agency surveys.  The APSII Project provided input into the development of these questions throughout 2010.

The Report analysed six factors which contribute to an innovative APS.  This included the source of innovative ideas, the workplace climate, barriers to implementing innovation, maturity, outputs and benefits of the innovation process.  Here are some of the key findings:

  • Innovation is firmly on the radar of most agencies and there is a growing awareness that further improvements need to be made.  Agencies reported that they had strategies (either fully developed, partially developed or in progress) for specifying goals and targets for innovation (~42%), identifying innovation (~57%) and regularly evaluating innovation (~43%).  Only a few agencies felt they had attained a high level of innovation capability.  Most agencies saw themselves as reaching a higher level over the next three years.  The need for improved innovation is driven (to a larger part) by the on-going annual efficiency dividends imposed by government on APS agencies. Yet, in a “Catch 22” type situation, budgetary restrictions were viewed as the greatest barrier to innovation across the APS.

  • Employees rated their own role in the innovation process highly.  This included seeing themselves or their work groups as a source of ideas (90%), being prepared to contribute to the innovation process (>85%) and rating employee involvement (~87%) higher than supportive management as contributing factor to an innovative work climate.  How much of this perception is based on reality and how much is a reflection of limited communication and organisational overview is not clear from the survey results.

  • Organisational silos remain a factor stifling innovation.  The survey showed that employees felt that the majority of innovative ideas were sourced within the APS and government (and largely within their organisation).  Industry stakeholders were the only category to rate as a major external source of ideas (50%).  As shown in international literature on this subject, partnerships and collaboration are key aspects to improved innovation. While incremental innovation can occur quite readily within the working group or organisation, major transformational innovation generally arises from broader collaborations.

  • Leadership support for innovation remained an important issue. Data suggest a slight increase in direct management support over the past four years (an increase from 64% to 68% based on the employee ratings). However, recognition for and awarding of innovation remained relatively low (only 30% to 40% of employees rated this as a contributing factor to supporting innovation).  Only 30% of employees felt they had adequate time and resources to pursue innovation.  More than half of the employee surveyed reported barriers to innovation.  These included budgetary restrictions (~63%), unwillingness by managers to take risk (~44%) and the belief that their ideas would not be seriously considered by management (~43%).

  • In terms of the benefits of innovation, employees were most positive about improvements to administrative or organisational processes (~55%), the way services were provided (~51%) and services generally (~40%).  Positive effects included improvements to own work quality (70%), client or user satisfaction (~67%), improved administrative procedures (~65%) and job satisfaction (~62%). Almost two-thirds of employees (65%) agreed that “red tape” affected productivity. However, 76% of the agencies reported that they had strategies in place to address this and a further 9% reported that they had strategies under development.

  • The following factors were each associated with significant differences in results for many of the questions: the level of employment (i.e. SES, EL or APS), size of agency (i.e. small, medium or large) and location (Canberra versus non-Canberra based).  The reasons for this remain speculative but bear further investigation in future surveys.

  • The survey data showed clear areas that could be addressed in the future to improve innovation capability and performance across the APS.  This included greater accountability for innovation at an agency and SES level, greater organisational support for innovation, greater recognition and celebration of innovative achievements and improvements to the workplace climate to make it more conducive to innovation.  Last but not least, around 30% of employees either did not know or had no views on innovation.  Thus while there have been improvements over time, it would appear that innovation awareness needs to be more widely promoted.

However, this is just my take on the findings of the latest SoS Report.  Don’t take my word for it!  Read it yourself!