How to foster innovation and creativity in the public sector

If necessity is the mother of invention, constraint must foster innovation. Given the constraints faced by Australian public servants, why aren’t our government departments the incubators of more new ideas?

Writing for The Conversation earlier this year, David Cropley from the University of South Australia discussed the need for a strategic approach to developing creativity. He made the observation: People like clear, black-and-white instructions, but the problems we encounter in life are far less structured and deterministic. Many people, however, when faced with uncertainty say, “I don’t know what to do, therefore I’ll do nothing.” What we need to develop is the mindset “I don’t know what to do, therefore I’ll try something!” 

For public servants with clear accountabilities and numerous people to appease up the reporting line, ‘trying something’ often feels like an impossible option. So how do we foster an innovative and creative culture in our government departments that delivers 21st Century outcomes while still managing risks?

  1. Leadership: Inspiring and encouraging innovation takes bold leadership that accommodates trial and error and welcomes the lessons from the occasional failure.
  2. Engagement: Truly engaging the people in an organisation as a normal part of day-to-day business creates an environment for innovation to thrive. Without strong relationships in place, the desire to be creative is stifled when it comes to taking the type of risk needed to innovate.
  3. Collaboration: Genuine engagement and collaboration, for example with community, industry and academia, provides  dynamic ways of approaching opportunities and solving problems. With the range of different perspectives that comes from real collaboration, solutions are more likely to be creative, innovative and accepted by the people they are meant to serve.
  4. Permission: As David Cropley explains, we need to try something. For public servants, that means they need permission to be creative, develop an idea and test it.

We have some incredibly talented people in our public sector. Creating a fertile work environment is all that’s needed for great ideas to take root.

Vicky Darling

Posted in Engagement, Leadership, Understanding government.