Innovation is often associated with private sector organisations where the demands for return on stakeholders’ investment and consistent organisational growth are significant impetus to successfully innovate or apply new knowledge. On the contrary, innovation in the public service organisations does not in any way appear to be a critical determinant of performance or survival – mainly due to the set of pressures, interests and demands on the public sector.
However, the dilemma is that since the public sector caters for the interest of so many and entrusted with socially important tasks; the importance of public service innovation is a no-brainer. Given innovation enables new needs to be met, and old needs to be met more effectively, it can result in greater value than the gains achieved in similar improvements in private sector.
The quotes below from Governor Fashola speaks to the importance of the issue:
“The dynamics of this time dictates that public service particularly of a city like Lagos must be responsive, efficient, proactive and an instrument of development”
“Equally, the public service that a mega city requires must imbibe the culture of innovation even in seemingly routine work” – Governor Babatunde Raji Fashola (3rd of July 2012).
Persistent failure to innovate in public service delivery in Nigeria has led to years of large surrender of the potential benefit of knowledge application for the country. We do business as usual yet expect changes in quality of education, security, unemployment, public health etc. Citizens, private sector and non-state actors are busy building novel solutions to keep the economy alive but the public sector to the contrary is stuck in the past.
Below is a proposition which I believe could help harness the creativity of civil servants, citizens, civil society and researchers to co-create solutions to the barriers to efficient delivery of public services in states like Lagos.
The LASG Public Sector Innovation Lab should be a model innovation centre dedicated to empowering change in the public service through support to development and testing of novel approaches to public service delivery. The state-of-the-art facility should enable collaboration amongst public servants, subject matter experts, civil society and citizens to co-create solutions to the barriers hindering efficient public service delivery in Lagos state.
• Create networks of public sector professionals that transcend traditional organisational/institutional barriers
• Support the development of a climate more supportive of innovation in civil service
• Serve as a living lab for the creation, adaptation, piloting and main-streaming of innovative solutions within the public sector
• Build a community of progressive civil servants and coordinate engagement with citizens, civil society and subject matter experts to leverage collective intelligence for economic prosperity
• Map innovative practices: collecting and analysing examples of implemented innovations in public sector
The nature of the public sector organisations demands a unique form of leadership for innovation in public services. Public service innovation is not about product but relationships and organisational design that encourage communication. It requires collaborative practice between those who adopt and adapt the original idea or practice – it is not about a one size fits all model as practices change in each new situation. The starting point is not a disconnected ‘out of the blue’ idea, but responses to specific problems.
To be successful, executive leadership will be crucial in building a culture of innovation around public service delivery even on issues less likely to receive attention. The initiative will have to be led by a leader who places emphasis on people and encourage front line staff close to service users by motivating them to engage the users and subject matter experts in their bid to make improvement.
Su Maddock; the Director of Whitehall Innovation Hub
NESTA, UK – (National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts)
Co-founder & CEO, CcHUB