[Originally published on the Australian Government Public Sector Innovation Network under a Creative Commons 3.0 BY AU licence]
On the blog we often focus on what is happening in Australia and touch upon some of the overseas developments in public sector innovation. Many of the relevant reports and case studies point to similarities in the issues being faced here and overseas in strengthening public sector innovation capability. But is that really the case? Do public sector agencies across the world have similar innovation experiences?
Recently I was invited by the Taiwan Public Governance Research Center (TPGRC) to speak at the International Conference on Best Practices and Innovations in Public Governance in Taiwan.
The conference involved a range of international practitioners and experts. Along with my presentation on what has been done in the Australian context, there were some interesting case studies from various countries including:
- The Online Free School Meals initiative from the UK’s Department for Education, which has worked to streamline the application process through greater and better use of online components. It has resulted in improvements in the audit process, increased uptake of the program, improved customer satisfaction and savings in the process. You can read more about the award winning case study in an interview with the program director.
- Taiwan’s domestic violence support hotline (113 Protection Hotline). The presenter outlined how elements of the system have been centralised to bring a coordinated approach to the calls that had previously gone to individual county contacts. This had led to increased use of the hotline, decreases in call waiting time, and positive reception by the public.
- The re-development of the process for employment passes (work visas) in Singapore. The presenters outlined how the application process had been looked at through a design perspective including understanding the customer viewpoint and experience. The revised process has been met with increased customer satisfaction and better results for all parties. You can read more about the award winning case on the Ministry of Manpower’s site.
There were also presentations from Korea, the US, and Japan covering a range of cases in innovation. The presentations were followed by insights from expert discussants.
The conference affirmed for me that while many differences exist in public sector agencies work around the world, we all face similar challenges and have similar drivers for change.
One of the other Australian participants, Professor Wanna from the Australia New Zealand School of Government (ANZSOG) noted the innovations presented were strongly linked to the mission of the respective organisation. I think this is an important aspect of successful innovation – it is driven by the strategy and purpose of the organisation and the needs of its stakeholders.
There were common experiences around the marshalling of resources and management structures for the different case studies. Innovators need to work within organisations and through networks as opposed to simply being able to make a change happen. This reinforces innovation as a process rather than just an outcome.
It was also clear that, as is the case in the APS, it is important for public servants in other jurisdictions to be able to innovate in order to be happy, effective, and respected in their work.
Many of the innovations presented revolved around the application of better ICT/online technology which allowed for improvements in processes and capabilities. They were often user/citizen centric in their focus. Numerous good questions were asked, but one that particularly resonated with me was ‘what’s next?’
After these ICT innovations, what will be the innovations that bring the next wave of results? For me this relates to the types of innovation identified in Empowering Change: Fostering Innovation in the Australian Public Service. Services and service delivery innovations are important, and have been helped by ICT and the Internet, but the next wave of innovations will likely be needed in policy and conceptual terms – in how we think about and conceive problems and possible solutions. But I think these types of innovations are much more difficult and we do not yet know as much about how to bring them about as we do with service delivery innovation.
To finish, I’ll share one thing from the conference that I think sums up the spirit of the presentations. As one of the presenters, Professor Edward H. Chow, said “Dare to dream. Follow your heart. Execute your plan.” I think this is good advice for all who want to innovate, regardless of where they are.