Why innovation is more than just a great idea
Ben Evans MBA, Principal Consultant at Atkins, 24 July, 2013

The public sector needs to be more innovative!” is something I’ve been hearing with increasing frequency over the last few years.

Some local authorities may be good at producing lots of ideas; others may be good at making things happen, but few organisations in the public or private sector are truly innovative.

Innovation is more than just a great idea. It is a process, and like all processes local authorities need to ensure that it is fit for purpose and provides good value for money.

The process of innovation can be considered in three stages:

  1. Generation of ideas: structures, cultures and organisational networks can help or hinder creative thinking in local authorities
  2. Selection of ideas: investing in the ‘right’ ideas (and closing down others) provides a critical filter in the process of innovation. Time and money is more limited than ever and a wide range of loosely connected projects can cause authorities to ‘drift’ and ultimately fail to realise the benefits of innovation.
  3. Dissemination across the organisation: a ‘million pound idea’ comes to nothing if it is not properly operationalised. Getting the authority ready and geared up for the changes inherent in innovation is an essential and often difficult element of the innovation process.
Truly innovative authorities have well ‘balanced’ innovation processes. They generate a sufficient flow of ideas, select the right ones to take forward and disseminate them across their organisations.

Assessing the innovation process in a local authority is relatively straightforward. We can do this via a simple survey across the organisation and a selection of depth interviews and focus groups.

What we usually find is that local authorities (or indeed any other organisation) are weakest at one particular stage in the process and this stage should inform the focus for their innovation strategies.

Getting the strategy wrong will invariably make any problems worse. For example if a local authority is deficient in the ‘selection’ stage, strategies that focus on improving idea generation (such as network building) can result in a greater number of initiatives that fail to be properly prioritised.

Getting the process of innovation right in your organisation can provide significant benefits both in terms of getting a better return on investment from change initiatives and by delivering better services for residents.

photo credit: Mark J P