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Enhancing public sector performance is a key goal of governments around the world. Innovation in the public sector, particularly in policy development, program design and service delivery is a necessary element in public services becoming better targeted, more responsive to community needs and more efficient.

Innovation, although not always celebrated, has been central to many initiatives undertaken by Australian government public sector entities. Indeed, as illustrated in the case studies selected for this Better Practice Guide (Guide), the public sector can draw on many examples where innovative approaches have been used to identify new ideas and put them into practice. While the Australian government public sector has much to be proud of, we will need to build on this experience and drive new directions if the changing needs and expectations of government and the community are to be met. In an environment that presents both challenges and opportunities, the Prime Minister has set high aspirations for the public sector in this regard.

The purpose of this Guide is to provide a framework for understanding the processes that underpin innovation in the public sector and to provide practical insights and a resource for practitioners. In this way the Guide is designed to further encourage and facilitate an innovative culture in the Australian Public Service (APS) and the public sector more generally.

As the successful translation of ideas into practice, innovation encompasses, but is broader than, creativity. There is a range of factors, tangible and intangible, that set the scene for, and support, innovation. Innovation requires a permissive and supportive environment in which to flourish. A consistent message from the APS leaders interviewed for this Guide was that innovation needs to be fostered, recognised and rewarded throughout the organisation, both ‘top-down’ and ‘bottom-up’. Many departments and agencies already identify innovation as a value or behaviour to be encouraged, and such statements are given real meaning through executive leadership.

While the influence of committed and talented individuals cannot be underestimated in identifying a new idea, public sector innovation will rarely be translated into on-the-ground outcomes without effective planning and implementation. Without such efficient and effective processes, inspirational and forward-looking ideas will not be transformed into new policies, services or methods of operation. To be successful, innovation requires structured processes and resources to examine, trial, support and disseminate new ideas.

Innovation inevitably involves a degree of risk because it changes the status quo or contributes towards an alternative future. As such, an appetite for risk and risk management is essential; and risk avoidance is an impediment to innovation. In this context, a theme in this Guide is that engaging with clients and key stakeholders is central to managing innovation risks. Collaborative relationships that provide a broad range of experience across portfolios and jurisdictions are especially valuable when dealing with the increasingly complex and interconnected issues that influence the well-being of Australian citizens in an unpredictable world.

Innovation is inherently ‘forward-looking’. Clarity of purpose and a forward-looking approach, including some over-the-horizon thinking facilitates innovation. Increasing expectations about deliverables and shorter response times, can lead to urgent tasks ‘crowding out’ the strategic issues. In this regard, a number of agencies have given increased priority to building and maintaining the capability, including the human capital, necessary to take a long-term perspective and to better anticipate and respond to the needs of government, clients and stakeholders.

The Guide has been developed through a review of relevant literature, including overseas literature, discussions with a cross-section of leaders, predominantly APS leaders, information obtained through case studies and other published material. The Australian National Audit Office would like to express its thanks and appreciation to all those who have contributed to the development of the Guide, assisting the public sector to use innovation to achieve better performance and to drive new directions.

Signature - Ian McPhee

Ian McPhee
December 2009







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