On Wednesday the Whitehall Innovation ceases to exist – an experiment dreamed up by DIUS in the Government’s White Paper ‘Innovation Nation to drive more innovative practice in across Whitehall.
In the beginning we had grand ambitions and good access to ministers and senior civil servants – however there was lack of innovation strategy in the public sector, and a tendency in BIS to ignore the diversity of innovation and the fact that is was government’s own practice that stifled innovation. Given the regime of de-incentives in government it seemed sensible to build alliances, create new narratives, and importantly connection and opportunities for innovators to discuss transformation strategies. Transforming government itself has become much more of a priority since 2008 – with Smarter Government, the Transformation Government Agenda PSA and Total place which is probably having more impart on central government than non locality player who have been working across agencies for many years. I hope the WIh played some part in this change, not least in its publications The Hub Strategy, Leading Innovation and Place Based Innovation.
The problem for any incoming government is how to translate case-studies examples into mainstream services. There are amazing examples of innovation is the public sector –the essence of public service innovation is in getting closer to people, being emphatic and analysing the dynamics in play. The reason why transfer of know how is hard is because each innovation journey is unique, although common principles apply – You can learn from examples but you cannot copy them- the conditions for innovation are about creating more adaptive public systems.
The WIH’s last paper on ‘Recovering from Mental Health’ talks about how to involve staff in changing attitudes and behaviours towards those who live with mental trauma and support them to recover their lives. Engaging staff is the key, however, changing age-old professional and work practices requires leadership, persiviance, continuity and trust in a better future – . The tendency of public bodies has been to treat involving staff as a technical managed tissue when regime change internal is also a political issue- and requires a narrative of why should we change, what will the future hold and how will the service improve? Innovation is driven by people and is not merely a matter of technology or the redesign of processes.
The WIH work with places on place based innovation shows just that some city regions are now developing their own innovation platforms but in very different ways although their ‘asks’ from government are by similar – clearly government does have a problem reigning whether one place is moving in the right direction or not . When the flow of intelligence is bottom-up as well as ‘top-down then policy-makers will be better informed and able to differentiate between Wakefield and Doncaster.
Elitist central government hampers innovation flow. The pace of change means that only the most connected, agile and adaptive of public servants will be competent to cope with the next ten years of austerity which will depend not just on a smarter state but also on the capabilities of public servants to connect, collaborate and ‘let-go’ – often in spite of their own career prospects and performance and project management regimes. The next stage of public service innovation is surely for the Cabinet Office, OGC and the Treasury in particular to lead a serious reappraisal of all corporate systems to ascertain whether they reward outliers and innovators and are open to innovation or not.