Encouraging public sector organisations to become more innovative has always been important, writes Kgomotso Lebele, Managing Director for Health and Public Service at Accenture in Africa. However, doing so has likely never mattered more as the world wrestles with the challenges of the COVID-19 outbreak and recovery.
This is largely a result of the nature of the challenges that all government agencies face, including rapidly responding to large-scale disruptors that have not been overcome by traditional strategies and technologies. Heightened citizen expectations and demand only amplify the need to effectively address these growing challenges.
Although innovation masters exist at all levels of government, they are also rare. According to a 2019 survey by Accenture, two-thirds of 2,030 C-level public sector executives in 13 countries say they have pockets of successful innovation, but innovation is not pervasive throughout their organisation. What then do innovation masters – the top 4% – do differently? In this article we discuss why innovation matters now more than ever, and unpack the three great lessons from public sector masters of innovation.
Why public sector innovation matters now more than ever
Today, public sector leaders are well aware of the need to innovate and of the increasing importance of agility in proactively navigating disruption. Our survey revealed that more than 80% of public sector organisations believe that they have sufficient investment capacity for change, but relatively few are transforming themselves into innovation masters.
Overall, public sector organisations are slowly shifting to new operating models. About 20% of the organisations we surveyed are focused on delivering the same level of services, and 30% of others aim to increase efficiency.
This tendency to set modest organisational goals delivered through traditional means is a big obstacle to more public sector innovation. The benefits for innovation masters are great. These top 4% were twice as likely as their peers to have greatly improved their key performance indicators over the past three years; and were approximately 1.5 times more likely to have greatly improved social and economic outcomes for citizens. Becoming more innovative and higher performing is essential now and will be in the future.
Lesson 1: Innovation masters embrace ambitious change
A strong ability to sense, respond and adapt to disruption. Innovation masters use innovation as a resource not for the sake of being pioneers but to deliver inspired outcomes. To become better at embracing change, public sector organisations should move beyond traditional strategic planning to instead reimagine the organisation’s relevance when faced with the kind of disruptive forces we are seeing today.
Next they should deploy analytics and other advanced techniques to proactively model and respond to these forces. Identify bold change priorities such as creating nimble workforces that are better equipped to work virtually and move from one challenge to the next. Become more citizen-centric by offering tailored and personalised services that anticipate citizen preferences and even allow at times for co-creation alongside citizens. Pilot organisational models that take inspiration from Government as a Platform, the sharing economy and digital innovation as a service. Lastly, reshape procurement policies to make contracting easier, more transparent and built for rapid response.
Lesson 2: Innovation masters invest wisely
Innovation masters strike the right balance between delivering essential services and innovating in promising new directions. Their peers, on the other hand, are more likely to jump at full speed into new models and systems, making it harder to be agile and may mean forging ahead without the necessary support and resources in place to effectively implement an initiative. Innovation masters also know when to cut their losses, letting go of legacy models that no longer deliver, which frees up resources for higher-value pursuits.
It takes courage however, for innovation masters to step back from everyday demands and confront entrenched processes and mindsets that may oppose change. Public sector organisations can become better at investing wisely by pacing change initiatives at a speed appropriate to ensure necessary funding, commitments and talent. They should strategically balance investments in new and old models and systems, confidently shed low-value services and assets, and move away from “incremental budgeting” where programs are automatically renewed without evaluation.
Lesson 3: Innovation masters prioritise collaboration
Innovation masters are savvy at tapping into ecosystems to fuel their innovation pipelines. They build public-private partnerships furthering successful new models and ideas. They prioritise research and development with partners and are 14% more likely to do so than their peers. Innovation masters place more importance on internal and external collaboration.
Public sector organisations can become better at prioritising collaboration and creating a connected government by developing ecosystem partnerships to drive innovation forward, through the use of accelerators and incubators. Develop in-house innovation labs and studios to test and scale innovations. Explore public-private partnerships and other cost-sharing structures to fund innovation. Hire and promote individuals with diverse perspectives, skills and backgrounds, and create an internal ecosystem with a flexible workforce, leveraging crowdsourcing and on-demand skills to improve access to talent.
Tomorrow’s innovation masters
Though today’s innovation masters have positively impacted people through reinvention, these organisations have no guarantee on future success. Nearly 60% of all survey respondents report that they have many promising ideas they are not able to implement for various reasons.
Tomorrow’s innovation masters will demonstrate fortitude for continued ingenuity, and even amid great challenges, they’ll embrace ambitious change, invest wisely and prioritise collaboration, as well as continue to achieve greatly improved social and economic outcomes for citizens, whether they’re national governments or municipal agencies. If innovation masters want to do more than keep pace with disruption, they need to set their ambitions even higher.
They will aspire to a human-first approach to how they deliver services, operate and work across an ecosystem. This will ensure they remain responsive and relevant, and innovation is never just “for innovation’s sake.” Instead it’s in the service of the needs and experiences of government stakeholders – both citizens and businesses. From saving time to saving lives, these will be the organisations that inspire communities forward.