First public service-wide Innovation Week in Ireland
The first public service-wide Innovation Week in Ireland was held in December 2019 where public service bodies collectively developed over 200 events and activities across the country to spotlight innovation. Teams had an opportunity to explore the meaning of innovation in order to create a common language, participate in engaging and creative sessions and collaborate with colleagues from across other areas of the public service and beyond.
We are living in a period of fast-paced global change and with an ever increasing succession of complex challenges facing Ireland and the Public Service. It is therefore crucial that our Public Service continues to prioritise innovation and that we enable our public servants across all sectors to effectively respond to these challenges.
In 2018, the European Commission’s Structural Reform Support Service examined Ireland’s Public Service innovation maturity level. This assessment indicated that innovation in Ireland’s Public Service was patchy and, while there are excellent ‘pockets’ of innovation in areas of the public service, a more systemic and strategic approach to innovation was required if Ireland is to become a world-leader in public service innovation.
In consultation with a wide public service stakeholder group, a variety of initiatives were developed and delivered to deepen an innovation culture in the Irish Public Service including the creation of the first Public Service-wide Innovation Week.
The first ever public service-wide innovation week in Ireland took place from the 9-13th December 2019. With a mix of organisations and diversity of experience, it was an important aim of the project team to develop an overarching brand and key messages to create a common understanding of what innovation is and why it is important for every public servant.
With any major change agenda, communications is key. To communicate so that the audience understands it is said that one must convey the message 6-8 times and in different ways. Innovation Week provided an opportunity to communicate the innovation agenda and the imperative to innovate in many diverse and accessible ways.
Each public service organisation was asked to put a spotlight on innovation and develop their own programme of activity resulting in over 200 events and activities designed by the people who knew best how to mobilise their teams. With guidance, common branding and messaging provided by the central Public Service Innovation Team, a network of innovation representatives created an impactful and engaging set of activities.
Key to the success of Innovation Week was the creation of a network of Innovation representatives. These representatives, had been appointed with formal responsibility to champion the innovation agenda and disseminate funding and upskilling opportunities within their organisations and to take part in the newly-established Public Service Innovation Network. This network of people were in prime position to access and activate teams on the ground which was crucial to the success of the initiative and an impossibility from the far away position of a central government ministry.
Some highlight events and activitie included:
• Collaboration with Libraries Ireland – innovation books available for free on a libraries app called borrowbox
• Air Corps Hackathon
• Military Hackathon
• Science Foundation Ireland Public Service Fellowship Programme
• Innovation Lunchtime talks
• Defence Forces Chief of Staff Awards
• Job Shadowing
• Health Service Executive Digital Academy events
• National College of Art and Design collaboration with the Mater Hospital
• Innovation recognition events
• Signing Innovation Declaration events
• Poster Campaigns
• Intranet takeovers
• Showcase of innovation in music teaching
• Artist studio
• Brainstorming sessions
• Data Exchange Network
• Innovation table quizzes
• Teaching Council consultation event with teachers, parents and children.
Many organisations used the opportunity of Innovation Week to sign up to the recently developed Declaration on Public Service Innovation thereby signalling to their staff of the imperative to innovate but also that they commit to equipping teams with innovation skills and supporting their pilot innovations.
The main event of the week was the Innovation Conference where over 600 public service leaders and innovators descended on Dublin Castle to explore various aspects and experiences of innovation from 20 Irish and international speakers, including a showcase of leading examples of public service innovation. In addition, the Public Service Team developed a new programme of innovation workshops called 'Faster Classes' across the country. Over 500 public servants engaged in innovation-related topics such as user-centrality, behavioural economics, design-thinking, empathy, collaboration and innovation capacity-building.
There was significant enagagement at events, online and through social media. The community of practice in the Irish Public Service has grown during and since Innovation Week and we are now witnessing local organisational networks pop up thereby demonstrating the interest in this important agenda.
The dates for Innovation Week 2020 have been set and will take place from 19-23rd October and there is significant support at senior public service leadership levels who wish to see the continuation of the enthusiasm into 2020.
What Makes Your Project Innovative?
This was the first ever Public Service-wide Innovation Week in Ireland where all sectors were asked to collectively put on spotlight on innovation. There has never been such a major focus on innovation in the Irish Public Service previously. It was a new and innovative way of engaging with an important change agenda.
Innovation Week, among other initiatives, seeks to help engender innovation within public services thereby leading to new and improved services, delivery mechanisms and approaches.
What is the current status of your innovation?
The first Innovation Week is complete and the project team have carried out a number of qualitative conversations with participants and Innovation Representatives. In addition, the team plans to carry out a quantitative survey to further their learnings in order to make improvements for the 2020 iteration.
Innovation Week required public service bodies to explore the concept of innovation at the local level and to start conversations around the topic with guidance. The initiative allowed for organisations to develop bespoke events that would appeal to their own teams who would best know how to activate their people. This proposition is much more effective than a central government diktat for any major change agenda.
Innovation Week allowed public servants to explore new approaches to problem-solving with demonstrations of design-thinking through hackathons for example and to explore how behavioural insights can benefit with designing services.
Collaborations & Partnerships
Innovation Week was proposed and developed in consultation with a number of cross-sectoral expert groups on innovation in the public service in Ireland. This included members of the Civil Service, the medical community, academia, the Defence Forces, the teaching community and others. The fund is just one of many recommendations from the groups that were brought together and inspired by the goal of creating a lasting culture of innovation in the Irish Public Service.
Users, Stakeholders & Beneficiaries
Users of Innovation Week were Public Servants and also users of services in some events.Stakeholders can include all parties that engage with the Irish Public Service and so these can be diverse and many in number. The primary beneficiaries from this initiative should almost invariably be the user of the service; the citizen or member of the public. The entire objective of Innovation Week is to make public services easier and better for citizens and to deliver improved outcomes for citizens.
Results, Outcomes & Impacts
-Over 200 events and activities developed by public service organisations for the first ever public service-wide Innovation Week;
-Engagement with the innovation has increased and this can be seen with an increase in Innovation Network members - established in September 2019 and membership is now totally 430 people;
-Innovation Week has provided a perfect primer in starting a conversation around innovation. This is key for the preparation of the roll-out of an innovation strategy and toolkit, and a comprehensive suite of innovation learning and development interventions for 2020;
-Engagement in innovation communications channels (social media, newsletter) have significantly increased demonstrating a momentum and interest in the topic;
-Increase in numbers of organisations signed up to the Declaration on Public Service Innovation (now 43); and
-Numbers of Innovation Representatives increasing and now totaling 113.
Challenges and Failures
-Communications are a significant challenge when the audience is diverse. Many public servants do not have email in work e.g. nurses and certain local authority staff, and therefore a multi-pronged approach to communications was crucial to the success of the initiative;
-Innovation Representatives were hugely important and where a representative hadn't yet been nominated, the innovation messaging wasn't as successfully disseminated;
-For 2020, organisers plan to engage with organisations who haven't as readily engaged with the agenda and aim for participation in this year's iteration.
Conditions for Success
-Strong leadership support for the initiative to allow for momentum to build at the local organisational level. This demonstration of commitment to the innovation is crucial for real change.
-Flexibility and resourcing of innovation events and activities - and encouraging and allowing staff time to attend events.
-Follow through from senior management in relation to the implementation or piloting of ideas and initiatives generated during Innovation Week to demonstrate that innovation is not just for a week, but everyday.
-Senior management to support staff whose interest has been peaked through Innovation Week activities and cultivate and maintain this momentum for innovation.
-A strong communications strategy.
Innovation Weeks have taken place in some organisations but not at this level in Ireland before. The next iteration of Innovation Week has already been planned for October this year.
-A significant learning is that for this innovation agenda to succeed it is an imperative to have local champions pushing the messages at the local organisational level. Where an innovation representative was nominated there was a significant amount of more activity, participation and mobilisation within that organisation.