What do successful entrepreneurs and the Institute of Public Administration Australia (IPAA) in Canberra have in common? Innovation capital — good people, good networks and a good reputation — to drive change.
IPAA ACT focuses on the promotion of excellence and professionalism in public administration. This not-for-profit organisation has built up ‘innovation capital’ over many years and it’s now paying dividends.
IPAA ACT is a well-oiled machine, delivering 60 face-to-face events each year for the Canberra public sector.
But, like for so many of us, the COVID-19 pandemic has thrown a spanner in IPAA’s works. Gathering in the same room is no longer de rigueur — for good reason — but the show must go on.
Chief Executive Officer, Drew Baker, and Program Director, Sunny Huston, are fast-paced can-doers but when social distancing restrictions hit, they stopped… took a breath… and started with the basics.
‘We asked ourselves, what is our purpose? What do our members need from us right now? And then we brainstormed how we could deliver this in a different way,’ says Sunny.
Within a week, IPAA adapted their physical event series into a virtual series, featuring videos, podcasts, webinars, and a weekly newsletter. And they even converted half their office space into a fully equipped audio visual studio to make it all happen on-site!
‘Our core business hasn’t changed but how we deliver and the speed to market has changed,’ says Drew. ‘COVID-19 has hit the accelerator. We’re moving at a much quicker pace than we normally do.’
These quick changes have been possible because of some foundational enabling pieces, assembled over time — a capable team, suitable technology, strong networks, and a good reputation.
In other words ‘innovation capital’.
‘We have a progressive CEO who’s open to hearing everyone’s ideas and we’ve built a team with the right skills to make things happen,’ says Sunny. ‘We also have the right infrastructure and technology — we’re cloud-based, we all have laptops and we’ve now bought our own studio equipment.’
Despite this, it’s been a steep learning curve for the IPAA team as digital content formats are fairly new to them.
‘We pulled in some outside help to begin with but we’re learning to drive the bus ourselves,’ declares Sunny. ‘We’re also looking at things with fresh eyes and being brave and pushing our own boundaries.’
At a time like this, relationships matter.
‘The IPAA Council, which governs our organisation, has given us unconditional support to do the things that we need to do. Our track record means we’re trusted,’ says Drew.
‘In a time of crisis, you lean on your partners and supporters. It takes a simple phone call to make things happen,’ he adds. ‘Like contentgroup and EAVS who leant us studio equipment and helped us set it up without any fuss.
‘And the Deputy Secretary and Chief Operating Officer at the Department of Home Affairs, who stepped in to do a podcast literally at the last minute when someone had to pull out. We asked her to participate late on a Friday afternoon, recorded her on Monday afternoon and got the podcast out by 8 am on Tuesday. That’s impressive because senior executives are busy people and there’s a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes to pull these podcasts together.’
The Australian Public Service graduates also trusted IPAA enough to be the testers for the organisation’s first virtual gig. The Graduate Data Network Forum was planned as a one-day conference at the National Gallery of Australia in April. But instead, IPAA produced a combination of pre-recorded speeches and live-streamed panel sessions, and posted them over a month.
This experiment worked well so IPAA ploughed on with other digital formats, like podcasts.
‘To be honest, we weren’t sure that we could do a podcast or that it would be popular,’ says Drew. ‘But we gave it a go and it blew us away, and really challenged our assumptions. There’s been a huge interest in the content. Downloads have been phenomenal, surpassing the reach we have with both our physical events and videos combined!’
Drew says this period of experimentation will have lasting effects on IPAA’s future model.
‘This has really shifted our thinking about how we deliver our content. We’ll keep podcasts as one of our standard services and our office will remain as a studio for the foreseeable future.
‘But we’ll also keep hosting physical events, when that’s possible, because there’s nothing like connecting in person over drinks at celebratory events — like the Public Sector Innovation Award ceremony each July.’
IPAA has succeeded in adapting to the ‘new normal’ by consciously investing in innovation capital early on. It allowed them to draw from the bank — their networks — when life threw them a curve ball.
The Public Sector Innovation Network (PSIN) was an Australian government network helping public servants understand and apply innovation in their daily work. PSIN ceased on 8 January 2021.
See more PSIN resources or read about PSIN on the National Library of Australia Trove archive.