Ideas Central – Ideas management at the Department of Innovation

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

One of the things I have found in my two years researching and investigating public sector innovation is that a great deal of attention is paid to the beginning stage of the innovation process – the generation of ideas. But in some ways that is the least important phase as organisations rarely seem to suffer from a shortage of ideas. They may lack ideas for a particular problem but generally there are lots of ideas, especially if staff or others are explicitly asked to put forward their suggestions.

The harder part of the process is the next step of choosing which of the many ideas available should be investigated further, and then possibly implemented. To do this well at an organisational level a formalised process for managing ideas is generally needed.

Previously on this blog we’ve heard from our colleagues at the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry about their ideas management system I-Gen. There are a number of other agencies who are also introducing processes for managing ideas. Today we’d like to share what we have been doing at the Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research.

At the end of August, the Department launched a pilot initiative called ‘Ideas Central’. Technically it is a relatively simple system built on the Department’s SharePoint platform. In contrast to I-Gen, Ideas Central was launched around a particular theme and asked Departmental staff for ideas about how to reduce red tape. This is contributing towards recommendation 8.3 of Ahead of the Game: Blueprint for the Reform of Australian Government Administration, which included that agencies should use feedback mechanisms to allow staff to recommend ways of reducing internal red tape.

The ideas ‘Round’ ran for a 6 week period in which staff could put forward their ideas, and also comment on the ideas of others. 80 ideas were put forward during this time, covering a range of issues and varying in scope from the minor and procedural to bigger, longer term ambitious initiatives.

A group of EL2s from across the Department was convened to go through and filter the ideas, according to the Round’s objective of reducing red tape. Their shortlist of ideas was then put to an SES Red Tape Reduction Working Group to consider in light of the business processes, needs and commitments of the Department. Some ideas have already been implemented, whereas others will take time. Feedback on each idea will be provided on Ideas Central so that participants and others can see which ideas have been taken up and acted upon or why an idea is not being taken up.

We are now commencing a second round of the ideas management system, looking at how the Department can better communicate its work to stakeholders.

We have learnt a lot about the process for managing ideas, and will be looking to incorporate these lessons into the design and operation of the system over time. As with many innovations it will take time to get right and I’m sure there will be more lessons along the way. The final form of how we manage ideas at the Department of Innovation may be very different but for me it is clear that a formal process is needed.

We’ve identified some key considerations for introducing an ideas management system and we’ll share that in another post soon.