Innovation: going beyond the buzzword

Posted on September 25, 2018

Innovation is one of the defining buzzwords of 2018. Government agencies know they need to innovate, and they want to innovate. But there exists a problematic, pervasive myth that companies can only innovate in a controlled environment of post-it notes and whiteboards, filled with creative folk who speak in design thinking language, spouting words like agile, disrupt and ideate.

So how do we inject innovation into the everyday practice of public servants? Here are some lessons we’ve learned from our experience so far.

Tell a compelling story

A recent article on human-centred design in Apolitical suggests we need to stop talking about the ‘groovy process called human-centred design… it just doesn’t resonate’. So what story does resonate with public servants? A story that focuses on improving things for the people they serve. Tell that story.

Develop an innovative culture

Innovation has to start at the top. Leaders must actively promote innovation and move away from the ‘it’s just the way things are done around here’ mindset. They need to help staff adopt this mindset, feel confident about taking risks, and present a strong case for change to executive and Ministerial teams.

Empower staff to innovate

Frontline workers and middle managers are often best placed to be the catalysts of innovation, so it’s important to equip them with the capacity, ability and enthusiasm to champion change within the organisation. Encourage teams to collaborate and crowdsource ideas from as many different places as possible. The quality of your ideas depends on diversity, so be open and inclusive, letting everyone know they are worthy of participation.

Encourage experimentation and failure

Giving people permission to experiment and fail is one of the core concepts of innovation. Encourage staff to dust themselves off, get up and try again (and again). Yes, that means risk, but sometimes producing more of the same comes at a higher risk. Embrace it and remember that every failure is a valuable lesson.

Small is ok

When we think of innovation, we tend to think of large-scale disruption of the market, like Apple, Uber and Airbnb. But innovation doesn’t have to be mammoth, life-changing work. It can be something small and limited in scale. It doesn’t make it any less important. Lots of small innovations can add up to something big.

Celebrate and communicate success

This is something the public sector doesn’t do enough, yet it’s so important. When an innovative project goes well, we need to celebrate its success and communicate it beyond the people who were involved. It’s all part of educating public servants on the importance of innovation and the role they play in turning a buzzword into something that adds value to the community.

Get in touch to find out how Nexus can help your organisation deliver innovative, customer-centric services.