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Innovation is a term that gets used quite often to mean various things. When talking about government innovation specifically, it is important to understand what it is, what it involves, and why it matters. Without this understanding, there is high likelihood of misalignment of expectations, intents, and actions, which will make introducing and applying new approaches even more challenging.
The concept of innovation can result in many different types of changes including new products, services, and processes; new policies and systems; new ways of thinking and understanding; and new ways of acting, organizing and relating.
Innovation can have many different forms. Some government examples include India, where there is the Aadhar Initiative. This provides a biometric ID to the entire population, which is linked to government service. In Estonia, there is a data embassy that protects the core elements of a digital state. In Norway, the framework of their welfare system was changed from providing services to an investment approach. Government innovation can look like many different things and involve many different processes, activities, and ways of working, organizing, and relating.
Government innovation should be tailored to the situation. Not all innovations can be handled in the same way. A new idea that challenges existing assumptions, power relations, and behaviors involves completely different steps and potential challenges, than modifying an existing system for a new context. Different approaches should be applied to different situations.
It is important to understand what structures, resources and processes are best suited to a context, in order to manage the variety of different strategies and approaches.
Changing the status quo is not easy. Innovation rarely occurs without political will or demand in the public sector. It is usually a purposeful act.
However, this purpose is not always clear. Sometimes the purpose can purely be for experimentation; to think about how things could be done differently. Sometimes innovation may seem like a messy process that lacks direction. When change happens, innovation cannot be directed to account for all possibilities, so it is important to allow space for undirected, but still purposeful, innovation.
Sometimes the innovation's purpose will be obvious. It could be completing a goal that requires creating new knowledge, relationships, structures, or activities. These sorts of efforts are known as mission-oriented innovations. Mission-oriented innovation has a clear direction; it is a policy, objective, or rallying cry that makes the intentions of the innovation clear, as well as what will likely be involved to make the idea a reality.
Innovation's purpose can be an ambitious concrete goal or priority. Whether an innovation involves an explicit, tangible purpose, or an ambitious concrete goal, both approaches should be recognized, valued, and appreciated distinctly. They must also be managed and supported in different ways.
Innovation is inherently uncertain. Because it is dealing with something that hasn't been done before, the outcomes cannot be guaranteed. However, there are different levels of uncertainty- from having no idea or precedent for what may happen when the innovation is implemented t, to smaller levels of uncertainty where you may be able to guess what may happen.
innovation can often mean that you will not have visibility into what is happening, what might happen, or what response to have.
The different levels of uncertainty have implications for the innovation process. If a government faces a great deal of uncertainty, then the approach needed should be much more exploratory and tentative so that ramifications can be understood before too many commitments are made. Less uncertainty means the approach can take more advantage of the potential of the innovation.
Government innovation will have different contexts and levels of uncertainty. These different contexts will require different strategies for success.
The three key features we have learned about what innovation can have are:
Multiple options should be available when considering innovations. Having multiple options mitigates risk that a particular option may not work. This is especially valuable should something unexpected occur to disrupt your existing strategies.
Portfolio approaches are advisable for effective innovations. Portfolios help to provide a viable solution when circumstances change.
Thus, organizations within the public sector need to be able to:
Governments should appreciate multiple facets or features of innovation. The most important features of innovation are built upon two factors:
Many other factors can offer insight into innovation, but these are the most relevant to helping individuals, agencies, and governments to maintain and manage a diverse portfolio of innovative projects and government organizations to not only achieve their missions, but to adapt to a quickly changing world.
Based on the two identified factors, there are 4 types of innovation to consider.
Often in private sector innovation you may hear of an organization being “ambidextrous.” This refers to the idea that organization can find new business opportunities while executing upon existing business. Ambidextrous organizations manage the tensions between what is needed now and what will be needed in the future.
However, government needs multi-dexterity to engage with all four types of innovation in order to successfully serve its constituents.
Innovation requires a degree of “readiness” in order to undertake novelty to begin with. Innovation is highly dependent upon existing knowledge, skills, systems, and learning. There needs to be an ecosystem developed and significant investment by the organization to make the change a reality. Many innovations require room for experimentation and lessons learned.
Decision Lens helps government organizations to prioritize their portfolios, forecast potential scenarios, and identify trade-offs. We help the public sector to not only free up time through automation to spend more time on innovative projects, but to help them plan and prioritize those projects so that they can become a reality. Contact us to request a demo!