Agencies should actively consider how innovation fits within their strategic and business planning processes. Innovation leadership will be greatly assisted by explicitly identifying how innovation fits with the agency’s strategic decision-making processes. Without that, innovation efforts will be greatly hampered. This undertaking should be able to answer the question, ‘What are our strategic needs that inform our innovation priorities?’

Agencies may like to consider their future innovation needs using a Three Horizons approach:

Horizon 1—What is core business for the agency? What is needed now to conduct it and what areas could be made easier or even reduced or stopped with additional improvements and innovation?

Horizon 2—What are emerging areas of work for the agency? What solutions look promising in this context and could be developed further to meet the agency’s upcoming needs? What investment and capabilities will be needed to address these areas? What are the innovation priorities associated with them?

Horizon 3—What might the big issues in the longer term future be for the agency? What will be their impact on the agency’s responsibilities? What can be done to prepare for or reduce the uncertainty of those upcoming future issues?

This approach will need to be tailored to each agency’s context.

It could be supplemented with scenario planning activity, particularly for major initiatives, to identify what the issues of the future might be, possible responses and the capabilities that would be needed to address those scenarios. This activity could be done in collaboration with other agencies or even with external stakeholders to gain broader perspectives.

These processes will also assist in ensuring that there is clarity about the extent of executive and political support for innovation—where it is expected, where it is accepted and where, if anywhere, innovation may be a step too far.
There may be areas in which innovation will be less appropriate or palatable, and it will be important to be explicit if such areas exist. This is not intended to limit the innovation activity or ideas generation in the organisation, but to focus it in a direction consistent with the agency’s direction.

Of course, a caveat to these approaches is that there will always be circumstances in the public sector in which innovation cannot be planned for or where it is serendipitous. Changes of policy or government or crisis situations can require new and innovative approaches, often at short notice. However, it should be remembered that agencies plan nonetheless, and innovation should be treated in the same vein.