Tag Archives: public services

The Sustainability of the Scottish Approach to Policy-Making

The Scottish Approach to Policy-Making involves a focus on: Improvement; Assets; and Co-production. This has been widely written about elsewhere (see here, herehere and here).

But how was this approach developed? And what does it mean for the implementation of policy (as opposed to policy-making itself)? In other words, is there an equivalent Scottish Approach to Public Administration? And how might this develop in the future?

In ongoing research I have interviewed ten key players in the development of the Scottish Approach. All are, or were, civil servants within the Scottish Government (previously Scottish Executive). Through this research it is clear that the development of a Scottish Approach to Policy Making was a deliberate move to create a more strategic form of government in Scotland. This involved 1) internal restructuring of the Scottish Government with the establishment of strategic Directors-General and cross-cutting directorates; 2) the development of the National Performance Framework, Scotland Performs; and 3) significant investment in leadership development with a particular focus on Adaptive Leadership and Public Value.

The rationale for much of this was based on a recognition that the managerial approach to public administration of the 1980’s and 1990’s had not led to a significant improvement in the tackling of ‘wicked issues’ such as child poverty, climate change and health inequality. Importantly, this was linked to a growing recognition that addressing these challenges would require partnership-working across the public sector and beyond. That Government could not solve these problems on it’s own but that they would require a whole-of-society approach.

Initiatives such as the strengthening of community councils, the community planning partnerships, and the Community Empowerment Act are all part of a shift towards enhancing the role of communities in the design, delivery and ownership of public services.

Interestingly, the development of the Scottish Approach has been characterised as, in part, a conscious effort to move away from the old approach which was characterised as based on top-down; paternalism; working in silos; acute focus on curing problems after they arise (Mitchell, 2015). Ten years on has anything changed? Is the Scottish Government more strategic? More collaborative? More prevention-focused?

As noted above a key part of the ‘Scottish Approach’ was a focus on Adaptive Leadership. This is a leadership style developed primarily by Heifetz (his key texts include ‘Leadership on the Line‘ and ‘The Practice of Adaptive Leadership‘). Put simply, Heifetz argues that leaders face technical problems and adaptive challenges. Technical problems have a clear solution whereas adaptive challenges may have multi-faceted causes and require a multi-agency approach. Hence the focus on collaboration and prevention (examples include the Early-Years Collaborative and Health and Social Care Integration). Clearly an adaptive approach has particular relevance in public services in the face of the above mentioned ‘wicked problems’ such as child poverty, climate change and health inequality.

But can adaptive leadership work in the public sector? My ongoing research is exploring some the challenges in adopting Adaptive Leadership in a public context. In doing so a number of important questions are being raised about the sustainability of the Scottish Approach itself. Undoubtedly there is a solid rationale behind the adoption of adaptive leadership in a public services context. The extent to which this can, or even should, be maintained over time will be uncovered through my research.

 

 

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I Tried to Bribe an Official

Earlier this year I tried to bribe an official. Actually, I didn’t really. But this was how it was construed. The experience made me think a lot about bureaucracy, process, control and leadership.

It all came about when I was asked to do a presentation at a conference. This was a commercial venture – for which speakers often receive a modest fee. I have never accepted a fee for this type of activity which I believe is part of my job in terms of public engagement. But at the same time I don’t believe I should give my labour for free. So in lieu of a ‘fee’ I received some complementary tickets which I then gave to our postgraduate students. Thereby enhancing their learning experience and indeed hopefully adding to the discussion at the conference itself. A classic win-win I would have thought.

Here’s where it all starts to unravel. Many of our students are employed by public bodies. One such student, from Anytown Council, mentioned to their boss that they had received a complementary ticket to a conference and would require the day away from the office to attend. At this point it’s important to remember that this was part of the student experience and would directly help the student in her studies – and in turn help in her job.

The response? The student was asked to complete a business case as to what the conference was about and exactly what the benefit would be for her job. So, instead, the student decided to take the day as annual leave.

At that point you might think that would be the end of it. Oh no. Next the student was told that this could be construed as a bribe. Yes, the student experience is no longer just about me trying to enhance the learning experience of the students – clearly I might be using this as part of some Machiavellian plot.

So, said student is sent the 50 page policy document on ‘gifts’ and asked to read carefully. Then, said student has to complete a form (there is always a form). It must be explained what the nature of the gift is, from whom it has been received and what potential conflicts of interest there might be. Meanwhile the public need better public service delivery. Clearly, this doesn’t help.

These policies and processes exist for good reason. But ultimately how they are interpreted and applied is key. Clearly there is a balance to be struck between following the letter of the policy in a literal and inflexible way vs following the principle of the policy in a proportionate way. Often this requires leadership – to say ‘is this really necessary?’.

What this story highlights for me is the importance of what we are doing at QMU. Our public services still need better leadership. There is still a long way to go. But I’m confident that through our MPA programme, research and CPD programmes we will help.

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Connecting with the Real World

I’ve written before about ‘Academics in the Real World‘ and it is an area that continues to attract much attention and debate.

I was reminded of this recently when discussing ‘student experience’ with the programme leader of our amazing MSc Gastronomy programme (see here for more information). It might seem at face value that this is a very different type of programme from our Master of Public Administration (MPA) programme. Yet the aims and objectives of these two different programmes are remarkably similar. Both have, in line with the Queen Margaret University mission, a core commitment to social justice. And both use practice-based learning to support students’ understanding of ‘the real world’.

The understanding of how policy and politics affect practice is key to understanding public administration. This is our version of ‘from farm to plate’. We need to understand the origins of policy, how it is interpreted by public service professionals, and the impact this has on individuals and communities.

Over this first year of the Edinburgh MPA we have been developing our approach to the student experience. A significant part of this is the Workplace Learning module which we have developed in association with ACOSVO to enable all our students to get ‘real world’ experience (see more here). We have also had guest speakers from the UK Civil Service Fast Track, we have attended a conference on Scotland’s Public Sector Workforce and we have visited the Scottish Parliament as shown in the following short film:

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For next year we are planning lots more activities to expose our students to the realities of public service delivery. In doing so it is important that we continue to reflect on both the political process and the impact subsequent policies have on communities.

In other words, we will always be committed to reflecting and challenging the nature of ‘the real world’.

If you would like to find out more please sign up for our Open Evening: http://www.qmu.ac.uk/marketing/bulletins/opendays.htm

Applications are now open for September 2017: http://www.qmu.ac.uk/courses/PGCourse.cfm?c_id=277

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Leading Change is Full of Nonsense

There is nothing constant except change

Be the change you want to see in the world

Take a look at yourself and make the change

So much of leading change is full of management-speak, lazy slogans and corporate bull$¬!£. As if an oxymoron is the most effective use of the English language to sum up an entire field of study.

This is why I was keen to have Steve Toft speak at our colloquium on Leading Change in Public Services. Steve writes the very influential blog FlipChartFairyTales which has as it’s strapline “Business Bullshit, Corporate Crap and other stuff from the World of Work”. I’m also delighted that Dave Watson, Head of Policy & Public Affairs at UNISON Scotland, will be speaking at our colloquium (his blog is here). Both are not shy when it comes to asking tough questions and both are adept in their use of evidence to support their analysis.

These two ‘industry-based’ speakers will be joined by a number of academic researchers who will be presenting their latest research on issues related to the topic of change in public services.

This critical academic debate is really needed. Sadly, I feel at times that analysis and evidence-based analysis are lacking when it comes to the subject of leading change. Just browse the titles of the many self-help management books that grace the shelves of every bland airport bookshop around the world. It would seem at times that there’s an entire industry of consultants and pracademics churning out clichés designed to inform ‘better’ management and self-actualisation. The titles could almost write themselves: 10 Easy Steps to Success; Think Positive; A Short Guide to Successful Change; How to Influence Change in 10 Seconds. If only it were that simple (NB: I made those titles up for illustrative purposes. Apologies to anyone who’s actually written a book with one of those titles).

The trouble is that organisational change requires people change. And people are complex, emotional, unpredictable, political, gendered, cultural beings. So any organisational change will as a result also be complex, emotional, unpredictable, political, gendered and cultural. Unless we recognise that we are likely to fail – is it any wonder that, according to John Kotter, more than 70% of change efforts fail?

Add to that mix the nature of public services (see here and here). What do I mean? Well, public services are often inherently complex and targeted at some of the most vulnerable groups in society. So there is a great risk, sometimes life-threatening, if things go wrong. Also, it’s public money so everyone has an opinion, everyone has a stake, and everyone is just waiting for something to go wrong. And of course Politicians also have an important role to play in our public services. Yet even in the more robust academic texts on leading change the distinctive nature of public service change tends to be overlooked.

It appears that anyone wanting to offer advice is best served by offering a simple model with an equally simplistic, yet catchy, acronym. This, it would seem, is what sells. Not complexity, not more questions, and certainly not theory (as we know academics don’t exist in the real world).

That’s not to say that there are excellent books out there on the subject of leading change in public services – there are actually quite a few (which I won’t list here for fear of forgetting someone). Equally the ‘generic’ organisational change texts are of course hugely valuable – to anyone. But I think there is still an important place for continued critical debate around leading change in public services. This is why I have organised this one day research colloquium: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/leading-change-in-public-services-tickets-24921644309

 

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Fat Cat Salaries and Gold-Plated Pensions

Much of the popular press would have us believe that working in the public sector goes hand-in-hand with ‘fat-cat’ salaries (see here; here; and here), gold-plated final salary scheme pensions (here and here) and a job for life. In this context one might wonder why anyone would want to work anywhere else! Yet as this article by The Guardian demonstrates, these sensationalist headlines do not reflect the reality of the vast majority of public sector workers. Indeed, as the Full Fact website concludes,

The Office of National Statistics report actually notes many of the caveats raised by the unions, however much of this important context has been lost in the media reporting on the issue. Far from conclusively reporting the relative pay of workers in the private and public sectors, the ONS report seems to ask more questions than it answers.

So what are the benefits of working in the public sector? Indeed, are there any benefits at all?

1. It is hard

Working in the public sector is, in my opinion, harder than working in the private sector. Now let me qualify that statement. I don’t mean that all those who work in the public sector work longer hours or put in more effort over the average day than those who work in the private sector. But it is more difficult in the sense that measures of success are more difficult to define (and can shift over time). In the private sector, again to generalise, the measure of success is profit and the ultimate boss is the shareholders. In the public sector there are many different stakeholders including politicians (sometimes from opposing political parties), voters, the general public and service users – all of whom may have competing priorities in terms of what they perceive as being success. So, in other words, the public sector is more complex and linked to this efficiency savings are harder to achieve. How is this a benefit? Well, some people may quite like a challenge! At the same time it means that typically no two days will be the same and working with multiple groups of stakeholders, including international agencies, national governments and the general public, can be hugely rewarding in its own right.

2. It is not well paid

Again, it might seem counter-intuitive to highlight poor pay as an advantage of working in the public sector. To clarify, what I am referring to here is that there is comparatively poor pay in relation to equivalent jobs in the private sector. This has been demonstrated in ONS data, as referred to in this report by The Guardian, which shows that those with a degree or equivalent earn less in the public sector than in the private sector. So, if you are motivated by financial rewards, the public sector is most definitely not for you. People who work in the public sector tend to be motivated by, what has become known as, public service motivation (PSM). This explains how many of those who work in the public sector do so, not because of the personal benefits that accrue from this employment, but because of the social value of these jobs. Significant research has been conducted into the nature of PSM (see Perry 1996Perry, 1997;  Crewson, 1997;  Houston, 2000Wright et al., 2013Desmarais and Gamassou, 2014; and Ritz, 2016). Although different definitions abound, originally PSM was seen to involve: attraction to public policy making, commitment to the public interest, civic duty, social justice, self-sacrifice, and compassion. These are the real benefits of working in the public sector.

To put it another way, we should consider this, across the UK more than 5 million people are employed in the public sector. In Scotland 20.9% of the workforce is employed in the public sector. That does not include the significant numbers of people who work in private and third sector organisations delivering or supporting public services. Those people do not work in those roles because they are easy or well paid. People choose to work in the public sector because they believe in public service values and they believe in the potential of public services to improve the lives of the most vulnerable in our society and support thriving and sustainable communities. What other reason do you need?

 

This blog is an extended version of an interview which appeared in Prospects Magazine.

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What is an MPA?

By Dr Ian C Elliott, Dr Peter Falconer and Susanne Ross

What on earth is an MPA? Is that similar to an MBA? Why would anyone want to do an MPA? These are just some of the questions we have been asked when speaking to public service professionals about the development of the MPA at Queen Margaret University.

So what is an MPA? Well, to start with, it is a Master of Public Administration. In other words, it’s the public sector equivalent of a Master of Business Administration (MBA).

In that case presumably it must be similar to an MBA? Well, yes and no. The MPA and MBA are what are known as Type 3 master’s programmes – in other words, post-experience master’s. Entrants to this type of programme would typically have at least two years experience. In this sense the MBA and MPA are similar – both are typically post-experience master’s programmes.

But is the content of an MPA similar to an MBA? This is where things start to get more complicated. There is no single set curriculum for MPA programmes. As a result some (though not all) MPA programmes have content that is very similar to what you would find on an MBA. Modules can include things like strategic management in the public sector; human resource management in the public sector; financial management in the public sector and so on. In other words, an MBA with a public sector slant.

So why would anyone want to do an MPA? Increasingly there is a recognition that private sector management techniques do not always translate into public service environments. Different skillsets and different perspectives are needed to transform public services. Those with professional experience will likely have significant management skills already. Studying an MPA, as opposed to an MBA, can help develop new skills and new perspectives.

The QMU MPA in Edinburgh is structured around a philosophy of transformational change. In designing the curriculum our starting point was to consider what makes public services distinctive – their central role in promoting social justice and equality. Modules include ‘Gender and Equality’ and ‘Social Justice and Critical Perspectives on the State’ alongside ‘International Trends in Public Administration’ and ‘Leading Change in Public Services’. Rather than reflect public services, the State and society, this MPA programme aims to shape the public service landscape of tomorrow.

If that is something you can relate to then this might just be the MPA for you. Further information is available in this programme leaflet or at our website. For more information contact co-directors Dr Ian C Elliott: ielliott@qmu.ac.uk or Susanne Ross: sross@qmu.ac.uk

Dr Ian C Elliott, Senior Lecturer in Business & Public Services, QMU Edinburgh.

Susanne Ross, Lecturer in Business & Public Services, QMU Edinburgh.

Dr Peter Falconer, Reader in Public Services Management, QMU Edinburgh.

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SR2013

Politics vs Economics

Less than 24 hours since the Chancellor stood up in Parliament to announce his spending plans for 2015-16 much has already been written about both the style and content of his speech. Needless to say (and despite the Chancellors protestations this morning) this was a highly political speech with the upcoming general election firmly in view. Whoever wins in 2015 will undoubtedly inherit a very different public sector than existed in 2010.

When analyzing the content of the Chancellor’s statement much has been said about the extent of continued cuts to public service spending. But these levels of cuts were always going to be the case. The current position of our public finances would not allow for anything else. What is more there is little political contention about the need for cuts.

However, not all public services were cut. Certainly not in equal measure. We can perhaps learn more from what the Chancellor chose to (in relative terms) protect as we can from those things he chose to cut.

Winners

In terms of departmental spending international development once again comes out well with a 7.8% increase. Of this is due to international commitments to 0.7% of Gross National Income (GNI). The other big winner is the Single Intelligence Account which goes towards the intelligence services where there is a 3.4% increase. There is also to be a new £1 billion Conflict, Stability and Security Fund under the National Security Council. Finally there is to be £210 million investment in the National Cyber Security Programme (NCSP). In other measures there is to be no further cuts in the number of armed forces personnel and they are to be protected against any changes to progression pay.

The NHS is also relatively well protected with the Department for Health receiving a 1.9% increase. Although, the administrative budget for the NHS has been cut by over £1bn (a 27.3% cut in administrative costs). Interestingly the government has set aside significant funds to support further transformation in the way our health and social care services are provided. A £3.8bn budget has been allocated to support more integrated health and social services for older and disabled people. They have also ring-fenced £350mn of capital funding for projects to improve local integration including the sharing of patient data between the NHS and local authorities.

Finally the government has protected the elderly from much of the impact of the cuts. Of particular significance the state pension has been excluded from the new welfare spending cap. Given the ageing population and the pressure this will potentially place on public finances in the future this is an interesting move. The Warm Home Discount will provide £320m for discounts on electricity bills to the least well-off pensioners. The Department for Work and Pensions budget has been cut by 8.8% but most of these cuts will be from the administrative budget which has been cut by 20.3%.

Losers

Perhaps the most significant loser in all these cuts is the very group who are charged with implementing these changes – public service workers. Departmental administration budgets have been cut by a further £1.9bn. This means that most departments will have had a total reduction of 40%-50% in the six years from 2010-2016. Pay increases have once again been limited to 1% and automatic progression pay will be abolished in the civil service by 2015-16. It will also be abolished for teachers, become non-contractual and linked to performance for prison officers and also significantly reformed in the health service and police service.

This is particularly the case in local government which has already lost 32,000 posts in the last quarter of 2012 alone. The Department for Communities and Local Government faces a 28.3% cut in their total departmental budget although much of this is partially offset through capital investment commitments. The local government budget is cut by a further 2.3%. Bodies such as sports and arts organisations, that have previously been reliant on local government support, are likely to face very difficult times particularly given wider cuts to arts and sports funding. The use of charitable trusts, local government charging and National Lottery funding as ways to stymie the impact of these significant cuts. Even at this it is hard to see how local government will continue to deliver their statutory obligations in the context of these additional cuts.

Implementation

Whether or not all these changes can be implemented by 2015 remains to be seen. However, the statement of intent is clear. With a further 144,000 public sector jobs to go by 2015-16 the government is radically altering the nature of the UK economy. It is important to remember that public sector pay is already low. Yes, average pay in the public sector is higher than in the private sector. But this negates the fact that public service workers do not do the same work. In fact public service workers are disproportionately employed in professional roles such as doctors, nurses and teachers. When comparing like-with-like the reality appears much more stark. Take, for example, that those with a degree-level qualification get paid 4.1% less in the public sector than in the private sector.

These public sector professionals are now faced with the challenge of meeting government targets for cuts and efficiencies at the same time as continuing to deliver vital public services. No wonder nurses, teachers and carers are among the most stressed workers. Public service jobs are already tough as I have blogged about here and here. This is about to get even tougher. For employers the challenge will be to continue to attract, train and retain skilled public service workers in the face of such adversity.

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SR2013 and Progression Pay

Osborne’s attack on public servants won’t work

By Ian Elliott, Queen Margaret University

George Osborne’s populist attack on public sector salaries made for just the headlines he wanted. He promised to end “automatic progression pay” in the civil service by 2015-16, and to work towards ending it in the education system, the NHS, the prison service and police service.

The issue is a good deal more complex than the easy headlines make it out to be, however. Pay reform will be very tough to implement, and its too early to tell if the political will exists to see it through.

The text of the Spending Round 2013 report can help interpret what has been announced in the House of Commons. It is inevitably more cautious than the headline writers. But in between the nuanced language of the report and the sensational headlines, we can get a sense of what actually lies ahead for public servants.

The government has only committed to make a plan, not to end pay progression immediately. These plans will undoubtedly take some time to complete and are likely to come under review with the election of a new government, of whatever party, in 2015.

Teachers and workers from the health, prison and police services, are likely to see little change in their progression pay any time soon. It’s clear that some reforms will be taken forward, or are already underway, but there is no clear timescale for implementation.

Many of these workers have not received “automatic progression pay” in many years anyway. For some, progression pay may already be linked to performance. For others, it has been frozen for some time. For the minority who do still receive progression pay purely as a result of time in post there is likely to be a move towards linking progression pay to satisfactory performance. But again, something tells me this won’t happen tomorrow.

Even if the government were being more forceful, there are some real implementation issues involved. Progression pay is typically a contractual obligation, and changing the terms and conditions for public service workers would therefore mean renegotiating all these contracts. Given that there are more than 200 separate bargaining units in the civil service, each with their own pay structures and their own terms and conditions of employment, politicians are likely to avoid this task in the run-up to a general election.

It is important to remember that what is at play here is politics. Whatever happens regarding progression pay in the public sector, the chancellor has set out his stall for the upcoming election campaign. There is an apparent political desire to play to the galleries in stating that “some public sector employees see annual pay rises of 7%”, referring to progression pay as “antiquated” (though it is being retained in the armed services) and drawing distinctions between public and private sector pay.

Again, pay realities are very different for many public sector workers. For example, three quarters of council workers currently earn less than £21,000. Almost two thirds of civil servants earn less than £25,000. Yes, average pay in the public sector is higher than in the private sector. But it is also true that a significant number of low-paid jobs in the public sector have been privatised over the last 20 years. Those who are left are disproportionately employed in professional roles such as doctors, nurses and teachers.

These same professional workers face the challenge of continuing to deliver vital public services such as healthcare and policing with fewer staff and less resources. Additional cuts risk affecting stress levels as well as morale, productivity, recruitment and retention. Nurses, teachers and carers are already among the most stressed workers according to the Health and Safety Executive.

At a time when public services are facing such significant change and uncertainty, the biggest challenge for employers will be to find new ways to attract, train and retain skilled public service workers in the future. Cutting progressive pay, or even talking about planning to, won’t help.

Ian Elliott does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

The Conversation

This article was originally published at The Conversation.
Read the original article.

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Innovation

Recently I met someone with the word innovation in their job title. This struck me as quite interesting. I wondered, how innovative do they need to be in their job? Do they do all the innovation in their workplace or are others explicitly involved? Now I don’t want to question the work of this particular individual – which I actually know to be really important and valuable work. But rather I think there is a broader issue about the current fascination with all things ‘innovation’ within public service organisations.

Innovation as a contemporary issue

Current examples of how innovation is being promoted in the planning and delivery of public services include,

Innovation vs invention

The first thing to note about innovation is that it is not about experiments and people in white coats. The easiest way to think about innovation is about applying existing ideas or products in a new setting. That is what makes innovation different to invention-which is the creation of new ideas or products.

In this sense there is a long history of innovation in public services (although it may not always have been labelled as such). For example, where one local authority uses an example of good practice from another local authority that would be an example of innovation.

Innovation as a ‘good thing’

But is innovation a good thing in public services? Well yes, sometimes it can be. When people refer to innovation there is an implicit assumption that it is linked to some improvement – and so it should be. What it is not is doing everything you did before but with fewer staff and resources. There are many other words for that sort of thing.

In this regard it is unfortunate that the word innovation is becoming ambushed within some circles, along with other approaches such as lean public services, by those with alternative motives. Therefore it is important to understand exactly what innovation is and how it may help deliver better public services.

At the same time innovation may not be a ‘good thing’ and does not necessarily deliver better public services. Taking into account that innovation can be easiest understood as the implementation of an existing idea or product in a new setting we must ask, is it always appropriate for a public service to experiment with a new approach? Inevitably this will often involve some investment and success cannot be guaranteed. Do we (the public) want more risk-taking in the planning and delivery of public services? And are we willing to accept failure as a ‘learning experience’ when things go wrong?

Implementation of innovation

Ultimately, as with all change activity an innovation must be implemented properly and sensitively. Those who are charged with implementing the innovation (public service workers) must be engaged and should feel a degree of ownership of the change. The public must be willing to support more risk-taking and scope for mistakes in the delivery of public services. Finally it is important that the public recognise and support the improvement that will come from the innovation. Otherwise what’s the point!

The final point to note about innovation is that those companies who are particularly well known for it, say Dyson, Google, WL Gore, all invest heavily in it, are committed to innovation in the long-run and give their employees the autonomy to make changes where they see fit. For example, at W.L. Gore employees are given 30 minutes per week for ‘dabble time’ – time to do their own projects outwith their day to day duties. In other words innovation may lead to cost savings, or it may generate new revenue streams, but it is certainly not something that can happen on the cheap or during an away day. Nor is it something that can ever be the responsibility of a single person or “innovation centre”. Where it works well it is a common thread through everything the organisation does – from recruitment of staff to delivery of the business. It must be an integral part of the organisational culture.

Conclusion

There are lots of examples from across the private, public and Third sectors where innovation has delivered real improvement in the delivery of services. This does not need to be a particularly large project to count as innovation and nor does innovation necessarily require huge investment. However, those organisations that are known for innovation tend to invest in innovation, encourage their staff to experiment (and learn from mistakes) and they all take long-term view of innovation. One of the complexities of public service organisations is the nature of being accountable to the public. Unless your ‘public’ are bought into the idea of innovation there are always going to be huge risks involved. What’s more, if you have an organisational culture where “computer says no” is the automatic default or where budget cuts are the primary agenda item then you will need to change your culture or your financial situation first before thinking about whether innovation is for you.

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