Innovation in Government

Until this week I had not realized how scary a word innovation can be to people and to organizations. There are a lot of changes going in our government these days along with downsizing so it is difficult to view change as a positive move. People have been viewing innovation as another word for change and ultimately downsizing. It is when we start talking about specific examples of innovations that have happened in governments that I start to see eyes lighting up.

Innovation is change but it is self-imposed change to make the environment, organizations and the people in the organizations better.  It is the negative changes and changes imposed on us by others that we associated with change. Most of us do like change – like an increase in salary, winning a large contract, and getting a promotion – these are all changes that are viewed as positive.  Innovation is quite similar; if you are bringing forward change and are part of the change then it is positive.

In government many departments have been involved in innovation without putting the label innovation on it. Part of innovation is ideation and looking for feedback from customers on how to make services better. In the Canadian Government HRDC (now HRSDC) and Service Canada have been soliciting input on their services externally for some time.  In the US, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) started Idea Factory in April 2007, on a secure internal site to allow employees to submit ideas for improving agency operations.  By the end of Jan 2009, employees submitted 7837 ideas and 39 of the ideas have been implemented (Deloitte: Public Innovator’s Playbook: Nurturing Bold Ideas in Government by William D. Eggers and Shalabh Kumar Singh).

Open Innovation has been part of government for decades but it goes by different names – partnering, consultations, bringing in external consultants.  For example, in Shared Services in the Canadian Federal Government, the email systems are being integrated by Bell Canada. Bell Canada is partnering with CGI and Microsoft to implement the best possible solution for Shared Services, after having done the same within the organizations within Bell.  The team is taking a proven solution and adapting it to the solve government’s requirements. The solution is innovative to the government and processes being used to implement it are also innovative yet the solution has lower risk then had it been implemented internally.

Innovation is not to be feared and it has been very successful in governments. You may already be doing it in your department and not realize it. Putting processes around innovation makes it more likely to be successful and be continuous.  Understanding the processes around innovation and what has been happening in other departments, governments, countries and industries can de-risk innovation and increase your success in innovation.

Innovation and Transformation: Doing More with Less