Creativity and Innovation in the Public Sector is a title that will instantly grab the attention of many readers. I imagine that there are some readers who will eagerly begin reading this article expecting me to either say how great the public sector is in this area (like steering a tanker, sterling effort, lots of good work being done) or how bad and behind the times they are (bureaucracy, bound by unions, outdated structures, jobs for life). Both groups will be disappointed I’m afraid. It would be foolish to make a sweeping statement about the performance of hundreds of thousands of people in such an article.
Just like the private sector, there are good and bad examples. The drivers and barriers are the same but the resources and tactics used may differ. What I will do is discuss these and leave it to the readers to decide what is applicable in their particular case. The only requirement on the reader is that they are not allowed to say ‘we could not do that here, it just would not work’. Creativity and Innovation is for you, you just don’t know how to embrace it. First of all let us look at the overall shape of an organisation and ask the following questions:
- Are management always micromanaging staff?
- Do you work on your own or as groups of individuals?
- Is there a lack of desire to win or meet targets?
- Is there a lack of vision of what winning looks like?
- Are you inward looking?
- Do you have a relatively small number of external relationships?
- Do you have a stagnant culture with some stress and/or low morale?
- The right environment does not exist for employees to stretch themselves?
- Management do not get the best from employees?
If you answer ‘yes’ or agree with one or more of the above then your capacity to innovate will be hampered. Agree with them all and you need to change jobs quickly. If you are a manager in a public sector organisation and have grudgingly given ‘yes’ answers on the grounds that the organisation is tackling the issues in question, ask how fast are things changing, will the project ever be complete, will it make any difference?
Many public sector services have had innovation written into their service plans in the last few years and failed to deliver, mainly because those producing the plans inserted the word Innovation without understanding what it meant in a local context.
If you are intrigued by the ‘finger in the air’ test above then you might also like to think about the following topics – strategic barriers, organisational and corporate culture, learning, leadership and management, process and structure, collaboration and knowledge sharing. If you sense any black marks in those areas then perhaps you should start creating an action plan sooner rather than later.