Public sector innovation fund launched by Victorian government

By David Donaldson

December 7, 2015

As the federal government focuses its energies on innovation policy with the release of the Innovation Statement on Monday, Victoria announced its own, albeit smaller, initiative last week — the Public Sector Innovation Fund.

The $11 million fund is a new grants program designed to drive new and more effective solutions to policy and service delivery challenges. According to the fund’s website, the government is looking for projects that:

“… test or prove new knowledge, technologies, processes or practices to deliver public value and that can be scaled or replicated across government.”

Projects must be led by a Victorian government department, agency or statutory body, but can involve a mix of organisations operating in the public purpose sector, such as businesses and NGOs.

This public sector-focused eligibility criterion presents a point of difference with the previous Victorian Coalition government’s discontinued $12 million Technology Innovation Fund, which provided project-based grant funding for innovative ICT projects to improve Victorian government service delivery, but allowed business and NGOs to take the lead as well as government.

The first grant will be of $365,000 for the development of an online applications process for family violence intervention orders, to be led by the Neighbourhood Justice Centre, an arm of the Victorian Magistrates’ Court.

Applications will be evaluated against a range of assessment criteria across four areas:

  • Strategic fit with government priorities and the public sector reform agenda;
  • How innovative they are — using, for example, co-design or evidence driven decision-making, or including technologies such as data analytics, broadband or cloud storage;
  • Public and economic value; and
  • The potential to scale or replicate.

Public sector finance expert John Wanna welcomed the announcement, but questioned whether the money would come out of borrowing or general revenue. He also noted that it was a relatively small amount. “Most departments can scrabble around and get a couple of million just from printing less,” he told The Mandarin.

Nonetheless, efforts to improve outcomes and reduce compliance costs “should be supported”, he thinks.

A grants process can be a good way of encouraging this, as long as there’s a competitive process with a selection panel, including the minister or the Department of Premier and Cabinet, “so that agencies are not just given money but have to come up with ideas and are monitored and evaluated according to those results”, Wanna argues.

Public Sector Innovation Fund projects will be assessed by an internal selection committee comprising senior Department of Premier and Cabinet representatives.

Grant recipients must agree to comply with DPC’s performance monitoring and evaluation conditions, including participation in post-completion reporting. Applications can be made at any time.

The fund has some similarities with a discontinued $12 million grants program announced by the previous Victorian Coalition government two years ago, which provided project-based grant funding for innovative ICT projects to improve Victorian government service delivery. Notably, while the new fund stipulates that projects must be led by the public sector, the old Technology Innovation Fund was also open to business and NGOs.

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