Public Sector Innovation Network relaunch project: Discover

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1 March 2019

What actually stops public servants from being more innovative? What sorts of things get in the way when they’re trying to do something new? Where do people look for help and what sort of help do they need?

These are the sorts of questions the Public Sector Innovation Network (PSIN) has been asking public servants across Australia.

The Australian Public Service Reform Committee challenged us to take a good hard look at ourselves and make sure we are being as helpful as possible in this time of change.

We started a human centred design project to discover ‘How might we invigorate the network to drive innovation in government to better meet the needs of the people?’

We spoke to public servants at all levels of government, as well as professionals from related sectors, right across the country, in 7 focus groups.

We discovered that some people like training courses, some like toolkits… but everyone wants tangible examples of where innovation has happened in the Australian public service. And everyone wants connections to the teams who innovate.

We also found that some people are more comfortable with ambiguity while others prefer structure. And people’s exposure to innovation varies widely across the public service.

Some people already know who the PSIN is (thanks fam) and others would really benefit from knowing more about us.

So, how might we use these insights to design a service offer that would help everyone? And how might we co-design a brand that appeals to folks we’ve missed?

Turns out these were questions for our Create phase, so stay tuned…

Transcript

The Public Sector Innovation Network is under construction. It’s been around since 2011 and we’ve had some great successes, like Innovation Month and the Innovation Awards. But times have changed and we feel it is time to reinvigorate the network.

We started a human-centred design project and asked ourselves the question ‘how might we invigorate the network to drive innovation in government and, ultimately, better meet the needs of the Australian people?’

To answer this question, we started looking for best practice around the world. We’re not the only people trying to drive innovation in government and we wanted to ensure we built on all the work that’s out there and put it into the Australia government context.

We talked to public servants across the country. We held focus groups in Canberra, Hobart, Melbourne and Sydney with people from federal, state and local governments. We asked them how they work, how they innovate, what helped and what gets in the way. We also asked them what they struggle with and what they need to help them to innovate at work.

We started to hear some common experiences. We heard that middle management can be nervous about change and that change requires more energy than the status quo so is less likely to be embraced. We heard growing recognition that government needs to change how it works because the things that people used to rely on aren’t necessarily reliable anymore.

There were two themes common to all the people we spoke to. First, innovation means different things to different people, from business process improvements to disruptive change. And second, all people working in government, at all levels and in all jurisdictions want a safe space to innovate.

To address these themes and support the people we spoke to, we developed a matrix. The kind of information and support people need depends on their proficiency in innovation as well as their mindset. People who are more comfortable with structure and have less experience with innovation need to see efficiencies and clear benefits. People with more exposure to innovation and greater comfort with ambiguity need access to people like them who can help them build skills and propel innovation in government.

And while capability building and access to practical tools are important, the most important thing is for everyone to have access to tangible examples of innovation. People need to be able to see how things have been done previously and to be able to show these examples to management to prove that trying something new is worth the effort.

So now we have an idea of what people need, our next step is to create some prototypes about how this could work. We are going to host come co-design sessions to help build different versions of what the PSIN can be to help people meet their innovation needs. And together we’ll be building and testing features and different styles and aesthetics and we’ll even be discussing new names for the network. So, stay tuned.

See also

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.