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‘Suspend judgement and connect to wonder.’ (C. Otto Scharmer, professor, MIT, 2007, p 133)
‘You have to be healthy to be able to manage a work injury case.’ This statement by an injured citizen became a significant trigger of change for the Danish Board of Industrial Injuries. The agency, which assesses insurance claims made by citizens who have sustained an injury (physical or mental) at work, was a professionally run government organisation. It had a sharply formulated strategy, effective performance management systems, had digitised much of its internal and external processes and had implemented lean management, speeding up case flows and increasing case quality. However, the results were surprising when the agency, in collaboration with MindLab, conducted in-depth ethnographic field studies of just four citizens with a work injury, observing their meetings with state and local government officials and videotaping citizens at home telling their case stories from beginning to end. Some of the agency’s efforts had the reverse of the intended effect: an on-site ‘travel team’ that could settle cases quickly was perceived by the citizens as confusing and made them feel uncomfortable. A temporary, token insurance payment to offset the often quite long case duration triggered frustration because citizens mistakenly thought it was the final insurance settlement. With the permission, the Board used the video footage to analyse and create better approaches to the specific problems they experienced, reorganising service processes and communications. It also used the video snippets to create an imperative for additional systemic change throughout the organisation, engaging both top executives and front-line staff in the process.
‘Design thinking can remind public servants to ask the obvious: What’s it like to check in to a hospital, call the police or collect the dole?’ (Tim Brown, chief executive and president, IDEO, in Design Council, 2009a)
When the city council of Sunderland, UK engaged with LiveWork, a service design company, to find new approaches to helping economically inactive people into work, it also engaged in an entirely different development process. Over the course of the project, the designers spent three months following 12 people to gain a deep insight into their lives, and more than 280 people were involved in idea-development sessions. Building on design approaches such as ethnographic research, service journeys, fast experimentation and prototyping, LiveWork helped the city council to identify a range of possible solutions that could get people more efficiently on a path back to work. The key solution became a platform that built on the resources within the existing local network of community organisations in fields such as mental health, drug rehabilitation and caring. LiveWork found that these community groups already had relationships with citizens in need – relationships that could be leveraged at not just the beginning but at every stage of citizens’ paths back to work. The organisations could function as an ‘activity coalition’, serving as mentors, providing resources and helping citizens along each step of their journey back into work, in collaboration with established Jobcentre Plus employment services (Livework, 2006; Gillinson et al, 2010).
The application of design thinking – the intellectual and practical foundation of the co-creation process – is expanding rapidly in the public sector.
‘You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.’ (Buckminster Fuller, quoted in Ratcliffe & Lebkowsky, 2018, p 101)
This book has explored the emergence, practice and value of innovation in the public sector. I have proposed an innovation ecosystem encompassing the four dimensions of consciousness, capacity, co-creation and courage, which can power the ability of public organisations to systematically develop and realise new ideas for the benefit of society.
With the example of a healthcare project, I opened the book by suggesting that innovation, co-creation and design are future-oriented processes that hold potential for involving diverse stakeholders in shaping new approaches to complex challenges. And I concluded the last chapter by suggesting four leadership roles that articulate innovation practices at different levels of government.
Since writing the first edition of Leading Public Sector Innovation, I have researched and explored the potential for public managers in collaborating with designers to discover, generate and realise meaningful change.
In this brief epilogue to the second edition of the book, I wish to share the six leadership practices that I have found to be especially useful to drive innovation in the public sector and, indeed, in private enterprises too. The six practices have been derived from interviews with 20 public managers in five countries who have worked closely with design teams on policy and service challenges. The managers have been at three levels – top, middle and institution – and so the six practices are applicable to the administrative level of the public sector as discussed in Chapter 12.
‘Courage comes from the willingness to “die,” to go forth into an unknown territory that begins to manifest only after you dare to step into that void. That is the essence of leadership.’ (C. Otto Scharmer, senior lecturer, MIT, 2007, p 401)
As New York State Associate Commissioner of Education, Sheila Evans-Tranumn was among the highest-ranking African American women in US state government. As the first academic in her family (she has a double major in English and mathematics), she represents a remarkable story of overcoming enormous challenges to achieve a stellar career in public service. She also embodies a philosophy that speaks very strongly to innovation – for instance, having emphasised accountability at all levels of the New York state school system as a key driver of positive change in the public school system. She firmly believes that what she tries to accomplish is more important than her personal position. At a conference on performance management practices she said, ‘You can achieve nearly anything in government if you don’t care about losing your job’.
Leading public sector innovation shouldn’t be about risking your job. But to lead innovation, and in particular co-creation, is also to be courageous. If we as public managers don’t strive, every day, to do better than yesterday, why should politicians and taxpayers endow us with their money and their trust? For innovation activities to become strategic and systematic, they must be considered the public manager’s personal responsibility: part of the professional ethic, of the essence of public service.
‘Governments cannot be complacent about their ability to innovate.’ (William D. Eggers and Shalabh Kumar Singh, 2009, p 12)
Melbourne, the capital of Australia’s state of Victoria and a city of nearly four million people, is often touted as the city of festivals. Indeed, a US visitor to the city wrote on her travel blog that just during the week of her visit there were five simultaneous festivals taking place: film, fashion, food, flowers and comedy.
It should be no surprise, then, that the state’s public service chose to launch its ambitious new Innovation Action Plan by running an Innovation Festival. In late February 2010, the Department of Premier and Cabinet, the Victoria Public Service (VPS) brought together hundreds of public servants from across the state administration for three days of presentations, seminars and workshops. According to Maria Katsonis, a senior official and one of its key sponsors, the Action Plan was the first document she was aware of that had been signed by every chief executive of the VPS. Aiming at bringing the public service’s innovation efforts to a new level, the Action Plan addressed four interrelated themes: creating stronger networks between people, ideas and opportunities (through new collaboration software and by creating an Advisory Group to steer the implementation of the plan); building innovation capability (through recruitment, skills development and making innovation tools available); enhanced reward of best practice (through challenge and awards programmes); and, finally, by opening up and sharing information and data across the state government. The ambition of the plan was clear: ‘Making innovation an integral part of how we approach our day-to-day work will result in better policies, better services and better value for the community’ (VPS, 2010).
‘In the name of doing things for people, traditional and hierarchical organisations end up doing things to people.’ (Writer and thinker Charles Leadbeater, 2009b, p 1)
It is an early and unusually sunny morning on Frederiksholms Kanal, a cobbled stone street sitting along the channels in the inner city of Denmark’s capital Copenhagen. Nestled within a quaint courtyard, a newly renovated complex of 17th-century buildings houses a range of organisations working to advance architecture, design and digital innovation.
This morning a diverse group of people are meeting to explore the future: government officials, business leaders, futurists, healthcare specialists, technologists. Curated by a small design team, they are meeting, about 40 people in total, to discover the changing nature of healthcare. They are embarking on a journey to help redefine health, shape new markets for health business and provide a platform for preparing doctors and nurses for an uncertain future where the only certainty is that the skills they possess today will not be the skills they need tomorrow.
The project, titled ‘Boxing Future Health’, is ambitious in its scope, but also very practical. The aims are, firstly, to create three or four scenarios for the future of health in the year 2050; secondly, to build those futures into 40-foot shipping containers, in the shape of physical and digital exhibitions that can deliver immersive experiences – including the sights, sounds and even smells – of what living in different ‘health futures’ could plausibly be like. What might the very concept of health mean for a citizen living in 2050?