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Appendix C — Key themes from interviews

A total of 18 interviews were undertaken on a not for attribution basis, predominately with departmental and agency heads. The discussions identified many common themes and provided numerous practical examples of innovative practices and initiatives. Key themes from the interviews are:

  • the scope for innovation is enhanced where there is Government and ministerial support (i.e. a ‘permissive environment’), including recognition of the need for change;
  • the fundamental importance of good leadership (particularly ‘from the top’), a supportive culture, positive values and developing human capital as a precondition for innovation;
  • innovation needs to be fostered, recognised and rewarded throughout the organisation, both top-down and bottom-up (‘embedded’ in the organisation);
  • innovation tends to occur in ‘cycles’. This is because new initiatives must be bedded down and because various constraints make it difficult for an organisation to sustain continuous radical innovation for long periods of time;
  • innovation requires acceptance of a higher level of risk and the likelihood of some failures within an appropriate risk management (not ‘risk avoidance’) framework;
  • trials and pilots can significantly reduce risk and uncertainty and have been used with considerable success (in both social and industry policy);
  • domestic and international networks and collaboration can provide valuable learning and support (recognising that adaptations will need to be made);
  • the significance of organisational capability and agility to successful innovation (a number of organisations are seeking to build strategic capabilities);
  • the difficulties created by increasing work pressures and shorter response times, with the urgent and important tasks crowding out the strategic issues;
  • the challenges created (real and perceived) by the existing legislative, accountability and reporting framework, including the ANAO, resulting in risk aversion (adopting the ‘default position’) and inhibiting innovation;
  • application of new technologies can provide opportunities for innovation, including lower costs, better services and improved client and stakeholder engagement;
  • public sector innovation often drives further innovation at the public–private sector interface, including through e-government initiatives;
  • innovation needs to be resourced to be successful and there can be particular challenges in a resource-constrained environment and in cross-portfolio work (‘no-one wants to pay’);
  • public servants are generally committed, well-motivated and outcomes focussed (often achieve despite the odds); and
  • the Australian Public Service is quite innovative and well-regarded internationally but performance is variable and there is always room for improvement.

 

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