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Smarter government or sharper government?

Have any of you read the latest government paper on public service reform? Despite being called Frontline First, it is aimed mainly at policy makers with the added bonus of new buzzword or should I say hashtag in town "smarter government". Further down the paper, it talks about creating a sharper government. Whether or not there is a ladder that government needs to climb to get from smart to sharp is up for debate, but what stuck out was this:

"We will drive innovation across government, with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills rolling out a package of support to all departments before Budget 2010. This package will include adapting a tool from the NHS National Innovation Centre to provide a cross-government showcase of the best innovations and a number of practical interventions such as innovation capability building exercises to support departments in tackling key challenges." (Frontline First)

Before asking our favourite “community translators” to tell us what this actually meant, we invited both the NHS and BIS to reflect on how the original concept works for health and how the new programme might help us work better with our colleagues in Whitehall and other town halls.
With the NHS Innovations South East taking us through how this can work with staff coming together with ideas to develop innovations, this really set the scene for how the Key Innovation Programme might look like.

The first slide really puts the challenge of collaboration in context. If people don’t have enough time to innovate in the first place, if they want you to guarantee that every idea will be successful and if they only want to innovate their way not yours, how can you bridge the gap between individuals coming up with great ideas and groups of people working together to develop innovations?

The two most important breakthroughs that this system could tackle are enabling people to work on an innovation across agencies on the same outcome (such as public health or worklessness) and take this all to the way through to sounding and testing the market. It even provides a way to engage SMEs to show concepts that could meet the need you’re trying to tackle. What’s also useful is that it will link up to other projects like Civil Pages and the Knowledge Hub.

From my experience, ideas are sparked for very different reasons. Often people won’t put forward an idea because they don’t feel it is fully formed or because they don’t have expertise to bring it to fruition. It would be unrealistic to expect that you need to be an expert at understanding how citizens live their lives, how the technology works and how to secure funding. That’s where the Key could come into its own as you can bring all these people together on one project.

Let’s say you want to promote positive behaviours amongst young people and there’s a fund coming up asking you to tackle this in an innovative way. You may have youth workers who can make sense of what the issues are on the ground, a government official who has a helicopter view of what other partners are doing and university departments who are experts around behaviour change. You also meet entrepreneurs who have an amazing idea on how people can share their concerns.

They will all have different views on defining what the issue really is and ideas to help tackle it. You could start conversations with them and also look for similar projects using a great search engine. Then, when you’ve got the bid together, you could explore what kind of expertise and tools you might need to procure. A few months down the line, you’ve completed the pilot and now it’s time to show the world what you’ve done, reflect and adapt.

In the real world, we know things don't necessarily work as smoothly as that, but this system could help narrow the gap between rhetoric and reality. If you're part of a KCC team and want to know more about how you could be involved then contact Noel Hatch. If you're not part of KCC but are interested in the KEY, then contact Damien Kennedy to find out more.

- Noel Hatch

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