I was fortunate enough to lead a NZ government Innovation Fund in 2019, ultimately awarding over $3 million to nine exciting initiatives from how we ‘join up’ government around integrated services delivery for people, to an ‘Innovation Barometer’ project; looking at common measurement models for innovation across the public service.

The innovation fund

We talked to teams across the New Zealand public service, reaching out to get insights into their needs in this space. I want to focus on the positive energy and spirit of those involved in new ideas, new imaginings, creative thought, and resolve to deliver for users.

Innovation brings new ways to solve current or emerging problems, by diving deep into those problems and endeavouring to empathise, hypothesise along the way and ultimately validate those hypotheses (or not) quickly. What defines ‘quickly’ is open, but it is important that the envelope is pushed in getting out to users to test and learn as soon as is practical. It is also important that innovative work is not stymied by over-analysis, frozen by political stagnation or arrested by fear of failure.

Momentum is magic, releasing, learning, openly fuels creativity and deepens resolve in innovative problem-solving.

An open hub

I’ve seen across many big organisations (including government), the creation of innovation hubs kick-starting transformative ways of working and creative thinking in service delivery. These hubs can play an important role in providing the conditions and climate for safe experimentation. However it is important that core teams, as much as possible, are part of any innovative initiatives so people feel invested and bring their unique perspectives, talents to the table.

A culture of innovation need not be niche nor solely the domain of software development/marketing/ communications, but rather, it needs to be core to organisational culture, processes and makeup. We need innovative minds, creative, passionate people across the many facets of any organisation (e.g. HR, Legal, Finance) if we are to truly build resilient and flourishing places where teams working in the open are collaborative, in that horizontal huddle solving pressing problems.

Innovation intrinsic

Innovation needs to be a common thread across teams. For example, the fail-fast nature of much of the innovative work in the service design space shouldn’t impede important work to ensure that as and when initial discovery, alpha initiatives test well and indicate a resonating significance, that teams should be well placed and ready to lift these pieces of work to the next level - releasing services through beta to live, so they are living, evolving.

The gap between prototype and live in government can be a yawning chasm and needn’t be so.

True innovation must include every facet of the organisation focusing on the value it will bring and how it brings this to its users quickly, frequently, openly. This is the collective opportunity that a healthy, open culture of innovation can bring, bridging gaps, promoting focus, collaboration, unity in purpose, and a determined delivery of value to users.