Developing Innovation Awards for the APS

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

What if someone asked you “ What was the best innovation implemented in/by the Australian Public Service in the last year?”

What would you say? Maybe you’d suggest one of the examples we highlighted in our Innovation Month video or point to something you read about it in the media. Or maybe your answer would be “I don’t know”.

We know there are great examples out there. The work we do with Public Sector Innovation Month and the Innovation Showcase is about sharing stories, examples and practical case studies of applied innovation. Unfortunately those examples aren’t always easy to find.

So we need to help people share their innovative work. That way others will hear about it and might apply something similar in their own work or build on it when/if they try something innovative.

One of the best (and easiest) methods for helping people share their innovative work is through awards. That’s why the Secretaries Board recently agreed to support the creation of innovation awards for the Australian Public Service, to be run by IPAA ACT.

There are some existing awards that touch on this space – for instance there are the Australian Government ICT Awards Program and the Australian Awards for Excellence in Public Sector Management.[1.It’s also worth noting that at the international level there are also the Commonwealth Association for Public Sector Administration and Management (CAPAM) International Innovation Awards and the UN Public Service Awards.]

However these awards are not specific to innovation. Dedicated innovation awards can play a role in:

  • Highlighting and celebrating examples of innovation and the people who are doing them
  • Growing what we know about the process of innovating, and what works well (or not)
  • Identifying the innovations that could be scaled up or adapted to other areas of the public service.

So we are in the process of working with our colleagues at IPAA ACT to explore what the awards might be and how they will run, with a view to launching the process in early 2016.

Some possible award categories might be for the following:

  • Innovative culture
  • Digital innovation
  • Cross-agency innovation
  • Open innovation.

We’re also looking at the idea of whether one of the award categories could help identify examples of ‘honourable failure’ or ‘gave it a good shot’. However such an award would need to balance openness and the lessons learnt with a need to ensure that it was not seen as a ‘career limiting move’ or an invitation to criticise a department for having tried something that did not work.

We will be working through whether these categories will:

  • pick up the sorts of examples we want to know more about
  • potentially cover the activity of all agencies/ensure that all agencies would be eligible
  • reflect the spectrum of great ideas, collaboration and full implementation.

We’ll need to think through the sort of information we need captured, to ensure that they are a worthwhile resource for learning about the process of innovation. The awards nomination and assessment process will also need to be carefully considered. Ideally the awards should have an element of fun and discovery about them.

As we do so, we’d love to hear from others with any experience with innovation awards or if you’ve got views as to how the awards can best help highlight, celebrate, learn from, and encourage innovation. If that’s you, then let us know in the comments or by email.