APS Innovation Snapshot shows 2016 was a big year for new approaches

By Stephen Easton

Tuesday May 2, 2017

The Department of Industry, Innovation and Science has published its yearly round-up of innovative activities promoting new ways of working in the Australian Public Service, and it shows 2016 was a pretty big year.

Secretary Glenys Beauchamp points out that staff-driven initiatives like a design thinking mentoring program continue to build momentum.

The Department of Human Services ran the pilot with 14 participants from 10 agencies, who each spent one day a week learning from a design thinking mentor on the job.

“Without change, experimentation and risk — all of which are not easy to accept in the APS — we cannot adapt to the changing world around us.”

Then they pitched new and different ways of approaching their own projects to their managers, practising journey-mapping their experience and evaluating the pilot. According to the report, the trial was quite successful and the some fo the mentoring relationships have been maintained.

As Beauchamp also notes in the new report, published this week, the “ongoing commitment to an innovative public sector” in Canberra has been bolstered from top-down as well by the National Innovation and Science Agenda, with “government as an exemplar” one of four key elements. This includes “initiatives responding to the data revolution impacting almost every aspect of Australians’ lives” driven by Data61.

“Working across sectors and collaborating with research and commercial partners, Data61’s focus includes using data analytics to connect disparate government datasets and publicly release them on open data platforms,” she writes. “It’s also exciting to see developments like the new Data Fellowships which will provide advanced data training to high performing data specialists in the APS.”

As well as the specific focal points for APS innovation created by the NISA — digital, data and procurement — the report also demonstrates the wider effort ” to strengthen the innovation supply chain for the public service” is going strong, Beauchamp says.

This is the set of networking, peer support and learning and development opportunities available to keen public sector innovators, chiefly through the nationwide Public Sector Innovation Network (PSIN), which now has about 3400 members, and Innovation Month events in July.

Of course, 2016 also saw the inaugural APS Innovation Awards, a joint initiative of the Institute of Public Administration of Australia ACT division and the PSIN, which will be back again this year.

Beauchamp asks public servants to keep in mind the “basic characteristics of innovation” in her foreword to the report:

“Without change, experimentation and risk — all of which are not easy to accept in the APS — we cannot adapt to the changing world around us.

“Without innovation the APS won’t evolve to best serve the public and to develop effective solutions to complex challenges. We also won’t be able to remain an employer that can attract and recruit the most talented people.”

Analysis of metrics on the culture and practices that support innovation in APS agencies from the latest State of the Service data is also included with the report. “It draws out a strong connection between innovation performance and more traditional measures of staff engagement and management performance, for example in relation to risk management and internal communications,” writes Beauchamp.

DIIS deputy secretary David Hazlehurst, who is responsible for leading whole-of-government implementation of the NISA, reports on activities of the relatively new Innovation Champions Group, which he chairs.

“There are Innovation Champions from each of the Portfolio Departments, as well as the Australian Public Service Commission, the Australian Taxation Office, the Australian Bureau of Statistics, and the Digital Transformation Agency.

“As a group our aim is to provide senior leadership support for innovation across our agencies, and to share and learn from our experiences of what’s working and what’s not. We have sought to bring executive support and resourcing to APS innovation projects. We also sponsor the trials of cross-agency projects, acting as an incubator for new approaches.”

The Champions Group selected two projects — the aforementioned design thinking mentoring program, and a research project undertaken by the Department of Finance to study and bolster attempts to crowdsource ideas from inside and outside the public service.

“The findings of Finance’s work will inform delivery of commitments under Australia’s Open Government National Action Plan, in particular a commitment improving opportunities for participation in government decision-making with explicit reference to the more effective use of digital channels,” writes Hazlehurst.

He also highlights the 21st Century Service course created by the not-for-profit Australian Futures Project, which is for mid-level staff from APS 5 classification up to EL2 to learn about tackling complex real-world problems:

“Solutions are developed using techniques such as design thinking, systems mapping and rapid prototyping.

The course was piloted in April 2016 with a revised version run in October 2016. A post training survey showed that 84 per cent of participants have used what was taught on the course in the workplace and have shared or are seeking to share these skills with others. The second training course concluded in December 2016.”

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