Strategies for Fostering Innovation

The Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government (HKS) recently concluded a 3-part paper miniseries that “explores emerging strategies to strengthen the civic, institutional, and political building blocks that are critical to developing novel solutions to public problems…” The project is a compilation of interviews, discussions and collaboration with more than 100 innovators from various public, private and non-profit organizations.

In part 1 of the miniseries, the authors provide an introduction to city innovation and highlight current innovation initiatives in key cities. In Part 2, which is the focus of this article, the authors introduce a framework of strategies and corresponding implementation guidance for city governments. While the framework was targeted to local governments, many of the core strategies outlined are worthwhile for consideration by private industry, as well as state and federal agencies.

Below is a summary of the recommendations provided in Improving the Local Landscape for Innovation Part 2: Framework for an Innovative Jurisdiction.

Strategy 1: Build the Capacity of Innovators

Improve Collaboration

Building capacity in highly-regulated environments may mean creating opportunities for individuals to focus less on individual or agency goals and more on a new common goal for a cross-functional team or multi-agency initiative. Possibly use training forums or conventions as a venue for meeting and collaborating. These arenas allow for diverse perspectives in one common location.

Create Mechanisms to Generate New Ideas

Explore the opportunities available to generate innovative ideas. Social media and gaming can provide a wealth of information from employees, customers and constituents. Many cities have already embraced online community challenges.

Develop and Support Selected Innovations

Set up a structure and support system to develop the best concepts. Citizens, customers or employees may have fantastic ideas, but no experience with navigating the development and implementation. Many cities use technology incubators to support innovators with a wide-variety of services, ranging from low-cost office space to support in project management, government regulations and seed money.

Strategy 2: Restructure Policies to Make Innovation Possible

Use Data

Big Data for government and private industries alike is at the forefront of most leadership agendas today. Consider using data for predictive uses to better analyze potential problems, as well as past and future performance data to evaluate services.

Budget Capital

Funding for innovation initiatives is beginning to emerge at city, state and national levels. Private matching dollars and partnerships may help with expenses for research and development.

Eliminate Barriers

City, state and Federal Government institutions all procure outside services. It is critical to reduce the barriers for innovation caused by strict contractual guidelines.

“Although accountability for results is critical, often the public procurement officers responsible for holding service providers accountable are enforcers of a strict set of rules, including overly-prescriptive RFPs and cumbersome reporting requirements.”

Strategy 3: Create an Innovative Culture

Encourage Risk-Taking

In any organization, the leadership’s attitude toward risk-taking is critical to a culture which breeds innovation. Staff must be encouraged and rewarded to take risks and make mistakes. Hiring from outside the organization and developing partnerships with private sector innovators sends a clear message about the priority of innovation.

“Mobilize Public Will”

Much can be done to engage citizens for public reform and prepare for opposition. A public relations initiative to educate customers and drive change can be accomplished through social media networks.

Empower Customers and Constituents

Customers rarely have choices in public service providers or service design. However, actively engaging consumers in service design and planning can lead to innovations that would not otherwise occur. Choices in public services will allow for selection of the highest-level providers and elimination of under-performing options.

Look for our upcoming article, a summary of part 3 of the Ash Center Miniseries, which focuses on assessment tools for the innovation framework.

To learn more about strategies for innovation, contact us.

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