Posted tagged ‘government innovation’

5 Obstacles To Making Your Local Government Innovative

March 5, 2012

In these difficult economic times local governments need to be more innovative in how they operate. Local governments will not be able to cut their way out of their current budget crisis, instead they will have to find ways of delivering services that are smarter, faster and cheaper.

Creativity and innovation are needed in local governments today. Holly G. Green wrote a great blog post recently where she listed ten items that make innovation in any organization difficult. Below I highlight five  items from Holly’s list, which based on my 17 years of experience in government certainly fit and apply to local governments as well.

Here is a modified version of Holly’s list, with comments from me in italics:

1. We’ve always done it that way. When the organizational focus shifts to protecting the status quo, people stop looking for new processes or solutions. When problems arise, people tend to default to the solution that looks most like what has worked in the past rather than exploring new ideas or different ways of doing things. I cannot tell you how many times when I have asked why certain things are done in government the final answer becomes “we’ve always done it that way.”

2. The lone ranger approach. In many companies, one team or small department gets tasked with innovation. That’s like asking a single NASA engineer to develop a new rocket ship to take us to Mars. Innovation requires a combination of skills and talents from all areas of the organization. It does not flourish in isolated silos or hidden corners of the organization. Government offices operate very much as their own silos in many instances. One innovative agency is a great start but an innovative local government it does not make.

3. Failure not an option. Most organizations don’t tolerate failure very well to begin with. And once the mindset shifts to protecting the golden goose, failure becomes anathema to the organization. But failure goes hand-in-hand with innovation. If you’re not failing to some degree, you’re not trying or pushing hard enough. Failure in the public sector needs greater acceptance. Political opponents and the news media make failure tough to bear but I believe the public is more accepting of trying new ideas more than people realize.

4. Weak hires. Hiring people based on politics and not qualifications which is a common occurrence in many local government weakens the overall morale and talent level. As the talent level begins to decline, so do new ideas, new thinking, and successful innovation.

5. Lack of know-how. Employees need to have the appropriate skills and abilities to discover, evaluate, and execute on the best ideas. If you don’t invest the time and money to constantly develop those skills, don’t expect people to innovate on a consistent basis. People need innovation training and they need permission and support from their leaders to be innovative. Most local governments do not provide such training nor do they have a process for obtaining or implementing new ideas.

What do you think of this list? What other items would you add.

Fostering Innovation In Government

May 4, 2011

Stephen Goldsmith as Mayor of Indianapolis earned a reputation as an elected official who supported innovation in government. Michael Bloomberg as Mayor of New York City has implemented many creative ideas for new approaches in government. Goldsmith currently serves as Deputy Mayor under Bloomberg in New York City and he frequently writes interesting articles about encouraging and implementing new ideas in government.

In a recent article titled Fostering an Innovation Culture, Goldsmith put forth five principles for creating a government culture that embraces change:

1) Create an environment and attitude of continuous innovation – An elected leader needs to create a culture of continuous innovation that encourages public employees to identify a problem or generate solutions. He/she must encourage subordinates to generate ideas, assess feasibility, build business cases, coordinate implementation, track results and help make successful reforms stick. This strategy has been employed with success around the world, including in the United Kingdom where the Prime Ministers Delivery Unit aggressively identifies and advocates for change.

2) Create dedicated innovation teams – A dedicated change unit is trusted to interact with agency heads and other key officials, but neither manage nor are managed by those units they seek to influence. Bloomberg chose to create dedicated teams to deliver on his key reforms. These dedicated teams have been the drivers of success in promoting sustainability (PlaNYC), combating poverty (Center for Economic Opportunity) and maximizing agency efficiency (Mayor’s Office of Operations). Boston Mayor Tom Menino has taken a similar approach with his Office of New Urban Mechanics — a unit focused 24/7 on innovation.

3) Continuously and transparently measure results. Performance measures drive change. Quarter by quarter, year by year, performance data helps identify targets for improvement. For example, in New York City Hall’s “bullpen,” senior officials work in sight of large television monitors that constantly scroll performance data. When an agency’s numbers drift above or below the norm, they get noticed. Each deputy mayor’s computer also has an icon through which they can access performance data for their agencies and give insight on where they need to intervene or innovate.

4) Never cover up failure or mask mediocrity. Given the attitude of the press, the temptation to sweep imperfection under the rug is understandable. Don’t do it. As painful as negative press may be, a cover-up is infinitely worse. Use the discomfort to spur positive change.

5) Relentlessly seek ideas for innovation. Within any bureaucracy, many great ideas remain locked inside front-line employees. Tap into this resource. In New York City, we have launched an internal “idea market” to capture these ideas. But that forum is off to a slow start because employees with good ideas don’t want to risk being seen as offering criticism of their managers. We are trying to nurture a culture of innovation, encouraging employees who share their ideas despite such trepidation.

When I talk about the need for innovation in government a frequent response I receive is the heck with innovation, all I want is for government to perform basic and essential services in a cheap, efficient and effective way. What do you think of the principles proposed by Stephen Goldsmith as a way to foster innovation in government?