Public sector innovation can drive better outcomes for citizens. However, successful innovative initiatives are the result of individual efforts, rather than an empowering environment. How can citizens be provided with access to data to hold their government to account? The Innovation Barometer will do this, giving officials and the public data, spotlighting shortcoming, and providing actionable steps to track changes overtime, improving government's ability to deliver public value.
The current public sector is not setup for innovation. Successful innovative initiatives are the result of individual efforts, rather than as a result of a supportive and empowering institutional environment. Public servants already have access to dozens of toolkits and resources, what they lack is an environment that empowers them to put these tools into practice. Their intent to innovate gets buried under competing priorities and political demands. Senior Leaders understand conceptually that innovation is important, however, they lack the data showing its value and data that makes the gaps and risks of not innovating, impossible to ignore. What happens if they don’t innovate? Resources are wasted on solutions that don’t deliver the desired outcomes.
“We need to show senior leaders and managers that it’s OK to innovate.”
Hon Grant Robertson, New Zealand Minister of Finance
The Innovation Barometer will put real data in front of Senior Leaders that they can’t ignore. The Barometer will act as a spotlight on the shortcoming of a given agency while also providing access to information on ways the shortcomings can be addressed. The data captured relates to both an agency's innovative outputs and factors that influence an agency's innovative ability. Agencies will no longer just understand the importance of innovation conceptually but through data.
These factors are referred to as ‘Innovative Stocks’, each with sub-stocks, that together underpin the conditions for an innovative agency. The five Stocks are:
Innovative Intent: To learn people’s willingness, determination and belief in public sector innovation
Innovative Skills and Capability: To learn people’s understanding and capability to use innovative method
Ease of Collaboration: To learn how the ability to collaborate internally, externally, and vertically may help or hinder innovation
Innovative Culture: To learn how leadership, risk and organisational culture may help or hinder innovation
Institutional Environment: To learn how resourcing, organisational change and political forces may help or hinder innovation
Data will also be collected about existing innovation projects - innovation outputs - to learn more about the following topics:
Types of Innovation
Expenditures and personnel
Innovative procurement practices
This data will be collected primarily through a survey of public sector staff. Some of the data underpinning the Innovation Stocks will be taken from existing government agencies, which is spread between agencies, reports, and is not always consistent, limiting the holistic insights. We’re creating an economies of scope for data. Where one set of data, interpreted alongside another, creates a whole new dataset of possible insights, which can then be acted upon, ensuring evidence-based decisions.
The aggregated data will be presented as an interactive dashboard for all participating central (federal) government agencies. This dashboard will be made public so citizens have access to more information to hold their government accountable. There will also be a dashboard for each agency, highlighting their unique areas for improvement.
Our objective is to incentivise Senior Leaders to take action to improve their agency’s ability to innovate. The deeper level of visibility, understanding and actionable steps created will catalyse improved efficiencies, outcomes achieved, staff satisfaction, and the promotion of trust, transparency, and citizen engagement.
METHOD FOR IMPLEMENTATION
Creative HQ received funding from New Zealand’s Digital Government Leadership Group to launch the barometer pilot in 2020. As of Feb 2020, the team is building and testing the data development and collection process with its partners.
Senior leaders: New data and information they do not currently have access to - helping them improve the productivity and well-being of staff and citizens.
Public servants: Seeing changes made to their agencies in alignment with their contribution (through completing the survey) showing they are positively contributing to a stronger public service. They will also have the imperative to use the toolkits they already have access to.
Citizens: Increased access to information through the public government barometer dashboard. Overtime citizens will be the ultimate benefit from improved outcomes as a result of a more innovative public sector.
The June 2020 pilot will be with participating central government agencies. The vision is to include all central and local governments in 2021 and to share the method with countries looking to create a similar product.
COURSE OF ACTION
The Barometer is the result of three months work as part of the Lightning Lab GovTech 2019 accelerator programme. The team gathered in-depth qualitative research on what innovation means in a government context and the barriers to innovation.
What Makes Your Project Innovative?
Nothing like this has been tried in the New Zealand public sector or internationally. Research has identified the Nordic Barometers as the closest comparison. However, the New Zealand Barometer goes beyond previous examples in the following ways:
Not only collect survey data from team leaders, but also from front-line staff and management - providing more diverse insight from each agency.
Not only identify the enabling conditions for innovation, but distil this data into Innovation Stocks, that allow areas of strength and shortcomings to be more readily identified.
Not only showcase innovative outputs, but include accessible information on ways to act upon the findings.
The main reason the model was adopted was to better reflect what came out of the interviews with 64 public servants. They did not need another report - knowledge is only as good as action taken.
What is the current status of your innovation?
Currently the team is building and testing the data development and collection process with its academic partners and participating central government agencies. This co-design is crucial to ensure a) all the data needed for the comprehensive insights is collected and b) data from public servants is collected in an ethical way. The level of senior leadership endorsement received is critical for the gravitas of the data collection. The team is supported by a cross-government advisory board to advocate for the work and provide oversight.
19 central government agencies have been involved in the creation of the barometer.
Collaborations & Partnerships
64 public servants were interviewed and continue to be part of designing and implementing the barometer.
Confirmed interest was received from eight government agencies to pilot the barometer and in there are ongoing conversations with another 11 agencies.
Partnering with a well regarded university with intellectual rigour is vital to the credibility of the research. Creative HQ has a working relationship with the Victoria School of Business and Government, in particular the innovation research team.
Users, Stakeholders & Beneficiaries
Data will be gathered from a range of people across each agency - front line staff, managers and senior leaders.
Senior Leaders are key users as they will be those who directly use the dashboard data.
Everyone is a stakeholders. As taxpayers, team members have an interest in how the government services. The barometer will provide a tangible document to hold agencies accountable to improvements.
Results, Outcomes & Impacts
Getting funding from the Digital Government Leadership Group (DGLG), including Chief Executives from government agencies, is a strong signal of commitment from the NZ government to this work. The DGLG approved the original bid for $204k but they also granted an additional $150k as they felt additional funding would help ensure a robust deliverable. This commitment from government leadership makes certain their buy-in to the barometer - they are the champions that will make this project a success.
The process of collaboration co-design that led to the barometers creation sparked new insights and relationships between agencies as they worked together for the first time, highlighting the positive impact on agency collaboration of the Barometer project.
Going forward, the plan is to repeat and scale up the Barometer annually, allowing to track agency quantitative improvements over time, and highlight how public sector innovation delivers value.
Challenges and Failures
Cultural inclusion is front of mind as the team designs the data development and collection processes. How the team reflects and integrates Te Ao Māori and other forms of cultural and social diversity in the research and actionable steps. To address this a collaboration has been set up with a team that has experience in Kaupapa Māori research.
When the work began, it was thought the the problem was a lack of tools for public sector innovators. The team quickly learnt that there are already dozens of public sector innovation toolkits and that it is complex, ingrained, and difficult to articulate barriers that are preventing innovation. One of the challenges faced was articulating what public sector innovation looks like, and how innovation delivers value in a government context, where stability is so important. This led to extensive research on how to tell the story of why innovation is valuable.
Conditions for Success
Infrastructure and services
Data collection and storage processes need to adhere to government standards. The team is working with the Government Chief Digital Office and Stats NZ to ensure this.
Leadership and guidance
Success lies in Senior Leaders implementing the recommended actions to improve on their shortcomings. Knowledge is only as good as action. Gratefully, with the endorsement of the DGLG, Leaders will be resourced and incentivised to take action. Once there is a clear understanding on how to improve and a mandate to do so, it is extremely difficult for leaders to turn back.
Values and motivations
Public servants must a) understand what is meant by public sector innovation and b) see the value of it and how it positively contributes to more trust, transparency and reduced risk - which are core government imperatives.
The international movement in public sector innovation is inclusive and transparent. The team has drawn inspiration and continuous learning from the Nordic Barometers as well as several projects across Australia, Canada and the UK. The barometer is designed to be repeated. The vision is to promote the barometer with New Zealand's Asian neighbours and other close countries.
Through this work the Innovation Barometer team has been invited to represent New Zealand in the co-creation of the Copenhagen Manual - the new international guidelines for measuring and developing public sector innovation. NZ is one of 19 countries involved in this work (see the Press Release linked below to learn more). The team is drawing inspiration from, and working closely with, the Denmark National Centre for Public Sector Innovation.
Nurturing relationships across government is needed to build trust. It is all about the people; senior leaders, managers, and staff on the frontline. Maintaining these relationships will help the mana (respect) of the work you are doing.
Always start with why
Clarity around your project is vital. Telling the story which explains why what you’re doing has value is the most critical part of gaining momentum and support.
Governments both reflect and influence the culture of society - building more inclusive and sustainable public sectors across the globe will encourage more accepting and compassionate societies, for which there is great need of today.
- Implementation - making the innovation happen
18 March 2021