A growing number of challenges face the province from an aging population and growing debt to successive one-term government and a disengaged public service. Given these challenges, there is a growing consensus in the public service that change is needed despite organizational structures and behaviours that favour the status quo. As a result, GNB’s “Innovation and Design services” has evolved to help public servants become better problem solvers and move towards a more human-centred government.
Recognizing the need for new ways of working, to grow an innovation talent pool, and to change the culture of the public service, the Government of New Brunswick’s Executive Council Office created the position of Executive Director, Open Government and Innovation in 2017.
Since then, inspired by Alberta’s CoLab, MaRS Solutions Lab, Denmark’s MindLab, the Open Government and Innovation unit has sought to develop a first of its kind in the region Public Innovation Framework. Through a ‘portfolio of prototypes’ approach, established an innovation team and framework under the banner of Innovation and Design services. Now housed in Finance and Treasury Board’s Innovation and Design Services, evolved from a portfolio of prototypes that have included: workshops, a public innovation challenge, a public innovation internship program, an i-Team, a physical public innovation lab, design sprints, communities of practice, an ad hoc Deputy Ministers Public Innovation Council, and project-based workshops supporting craft alcohol entrepreneurs, public transportation, literacy, forestry, local government, second language acquisition, and child protection.
The objectives of the initiative are to increase the number of public servants exposed to new tools and techniques, grow a network of interest and practice, develop a common language for innovation, identify existing examples of innovation, connect public servants to external innovators, create space for practice and reflection, and develop repeatable processes and innovation artefacts.
This work has benefited public servants from policy development to front line service delivery by growing their tool sets, social capital, new ideas, and new ways of seeing problems.
Having supported many projects through the lab, the next phase is to support innovations through the adoption process, including monitoring and evaluation. The final phase is to institutionalise the framework in line departments, and facilitate a network of labs towards more whole-of-government approaches to problem solving and service delivery.
What Makes Your Project Innovative?
The GNB Innovation Framework is a first of its kind in the region. The framework represents a lean, agile, and emergent approach to the development of a public innovation framework, inspired by other innovation labs, guided by Dr. Christian Bason's work, and heavily informed by a mix of theories and mental models including: the Rogers Innovation diffusion curve, two loops, Theory U, breath pattern, and double diamond.
The framework takes a systemic view on the challenge of growing the innovation capacity of government: from internal/external talent acquisition and team formation, to training, practice and executive sponsorship. The result has been a comprehensive innovation framework developed in a short time period, delivering value along the way, and on a shoestring budget.
What is the current status of your innovation?
The projects supported by this initiative have been guided through the problems and opportunities, and Generating Ideas or Designing Solutions phases. The innovation framework is in the evaluation, diffusing lessons status. The team has been reflecting on the work done over the last three years with various users and project sponsors. The feedback has illustrated a strong perception of value among users, which includes improved employee experience and engagement. While demand for more training, facilitation, and support continues, a key finding is the need to have Innovation and Design Services support projects outside the lab and through iterative approaches to the adoption of innovations.
Collaborations & Partnerships
An integral aspect of the innovation has been connecting public servants to external partners and exploring the innovation ecosystem. Innovation and Design Services has partnered with:
- Civic Tech Fredericton to help public servants develop digital prototypes and make use of public data;
- NouLAB Social Innovation Lab to share in training and facilitation capacity; as well as
- Citizens and civil society organizations making the time to participate in multi-day workshops to co-create solutions.
Users, Stakeholders & Beneficiaries
Public servants have, at this stage, been the main beneficiaries of the innovation, ultimately to the end of benefiting citizens, be they students, entrepreneurs, industry, parents, or children. Public servants have benefited by having new tools and techniques that enable them to be better problem solvers. Additionally, participants have a better experience as employees of the government of New Brunswick. It should also be noted that citizens and partners have benefited from increased capacity
Results, Outcomes & Impacts
Results have been measured through surveys, interviews, and focus groups. Net Promoter Score, # of participants. To date, over 500 of GNB’s 10 000 employees across 12 departments have been exposed to the innovation and design services model of how GNB might operate in the future.
In the future our expectation is that more public servants are engaged in new ways of working and new ways of measuring the success of their initiatives, specifically how they engage with the public, measuring the public experience with solutions, and a balanced focus on effectiveness and efficiency.
Challenges and Failures
Ebb and flow of executive support and resources;
The team has adapted to changes in the organisational environment by continuing with lower fidelity versions of the programming when resources are low, and surging when resources are available.
Conditions for Success
Personal values and motivation top the list. No matter what level of resourcing exists, when the team is able to tap into the motivations of staff, it is possible to generate momentum and resourcefulness that often doesn’t necessarily flow from financial resourcing.
Public Innovation challenge was replicated after the Nova Scotia Policy Hack. The DM Council was replicated after the Government of Canada’s DM Innovation Task Force.
In GNB the department of tourism has replicated the physical innovation lab, the Department of Justice is establishing an innovation team, and other departments are looking to the Innovation and Design Services to help build similar capacity.
One of the biggest factors of success is continuous contact with and learning from other jurisdictions. Not through transactional events like jurisdictional scans, but through relationships and study tours. Seeing and experiencing their work on the ground, connecting with them through social media channels, being exposed to new resources and perspectives through articles, opinions, and case studies. This helps avoid or mitigate lock-in to the organization's path dependency.
Taking a portfolio of prototypes approach is key. Often public servants will have multi-year proposals that either get funded or not. When the resourcing is not there, they take no action on it. Rather than waiting for resources, build the smallest, cheapest, most generative thing you can with what you have. Start small, build momentum, and be open to non-traditional resources (like passion or external collaboration with a civic tech community).
- Evaluation - understanding whether the innovative initiative has delivered what was needed
- Diffusing Lessons - using what was learnt to inform other projects and understanding how the innovation can be applied in other ways
11 February 2021