Barriers to free thinking Lydia

For children, the world is a place to explore, filled with exciting new possibilities. This curiosity to find out more and do more is also fundamental to innovation. And innovation finds new ways to resolve challenges or improve efficiency.

To resolve enduring public service challenges in new, sustainable ways, a great deal of innovation is necessary.

“I believe we are all born innovators, but in society, we often kill that spirit. Sometimes we are too comfortable with the status quo,” says Lydia Phalwane,Chief Director: Enabling Environment, CPSI.

“At the CPSI, we encourage and support people in the public service who want to make a difference. While you’re busy resolving a problem or improving efficiency, take one more person with you. Encouraging your colleagues is key to making the country a better place.”

The CPSI encourages public servants to innovate in a number of ways, says Phalwane.

Firstly, passionate public servants can enter the CPSI’s annual awards programme, which has been running since 2003, in any of the four categories.

Award-winners include the Sustainable Rural Villages project in the Eastern Cape in 2011, scanning of result slips during voting for the Independent Electoral Commission in 2010, and the almost no-fee university CIDA City Campus in 2009.

Secondly, the CPSI visits public sector employees during national roadshows and workshops, encouraging them to start innovation projects.


When a public servant suggests a solution, the CPSI can help evaluate the solution and its potential technology aspects, and, if it is deemed to have potenitial, the CPSI help to develop it too.

As an example, residents in North West province were concerned about the number of people drowning at numerous dams. With the CPSI’s help, the Inland Maritime Safety Programme has been developed to address this, and at the same time improve water quality and boating safety by reducing invasive water plants. A large number of stakeholders actively participate in the project.

In the course of encouraging innovation, the CPSI sees its role as that of support and facilitation. Often technology needs customising to meet specific requirements and local conditions, and where a solution needs existing technology to be adapted, the CPSI is able to facilitate stakeholders and vendors.

Spreading the word

Once a project has successfully resolved a pressing problem in one area of the public service, the CPSI facilitates link-ups to other public servants and departments ready to implement the solution as well.

An example is the knowledge-sharing among Gauteng’s Helen Joseph, KwaZulu-Natal’s Mahatma Gandhi and North West province’s Job Shimankana Tabane hospitals. The idea helped to drastically reduce the time patients needed to queue in the pharmacies for their medicines.

For those who want to learn more about innovative resolution of South African service delivery problems, the CPSI’s Multimedia Innovation Centre in Centurion acts as a central repository of ideas, offering an interactive experience showcasing successful projects.

Exploring to find solutions and resolving a particular public service delivery problem is no easy task. Even more difficult can be persuading people from all ranks to participate in such innovations and the subsequent changes, says Phalwane. The same issue occurs when trying to replicate a successful project somewhere else.

Innovation for service delivery

Providing good service to citizens often means finding new ways of resolving old problems. How to encourage that innovation among public servants, though? Managers can start by making things easier for employees to come forward with ideas, says Phalwane.

“Otherwise colleagues in the department just resist the solution and say that things were done this way for 20 years, and why should they change them now?

“It really helps when a manager has an open mind and does not think he has all the answers. People are more relaxed and more likely to come up with ideas. You are a manager of people with lots of potential. You are as strong as your team members are.”

Phalwane notes that to resolve public service problems does not always need more money throwing at the problem or even the latest technology. “Often all that is needed is the sharp mind of a person who wants to improve service, and who takes their colleagues along on the journey,” she concludes