South African Centre for Public Service Innovation

[Originally published on the Australian Government Public Sector Innovation Network under a Creative Commons 3.0 BY AU licence]

Improving innovation in the public sector is not an issue unique to Australia – there are many countries looking at how to boost innovation in their public sectors. One of the countries we mentioned in the report Empowering Change was South Africa who has been doing some interesting work through their Centre for Public Service Innovation (CPSI).

Last week, as part of an Australia/South Africa Symposium, we had the opportunity to meet with the CEO of the CPSI and some of her colleagues. We got to hear a lot about their Centre and the work that they are doing.

Overall, despite the different settings and institutions, it was very interesting to see the common issues – the need to do more with less and how to confront preconceived mindsets in the public sector about what is possible were just two examples.

It turned out that there were some approaches that we share, e.g. building up a community of innovators and champions, and coordinating and sharing knowledge on innovation and what works and perhaps more usefully, what doesn’t.

But there were also different approaches reflecting our different contexts. In investigating and piloting innovative solutions, the CPSI looks to have them carried out in partnership with the private sector, and at the cost of the private sector, to see if the solution works.

There were areas where we can adopt approaches from them. For instance, in working to help replicate ideas from one area to another they seem to have a strong focus on working closely with the people involved and helping link them with other areas where the idea might be relevant. Such a people-centric view seems to be an important enabler for diffusing innovative approaches.

I found it quite inspiring to hear from people helping innovation to occur in some difficult circumstances and without the same access to some of the IT platforms (for example) that we have in Australia and in the Australian Public Service.

Working on public sector innovation you can hear a lot about what’s stopping it or why it is difficult. It was good to hear from the South African CPSI of what can be done even where there are difficulties or barriers.

I recommend having a look at their site and seeing how they are putting innovation into practice in the South African public service.