LINDANI MTHETHWA

Once a good idea has been identified, it needs incubating and support in order to truly impact the public service.

The role of the CPSI’s Solution Support and Incubation Unit is to test, pilot, adapt, demonstrate and mainstream innovative solutions for the public sector, says Lindani Mthethwa, Chief Director: Solution Support and Incubation.

“Our approach to developing innovative models for service delivery improvement includes looking at challenges and potential solutions in collaboration with the key stakeholders. By doing this, we ensure that line departments and implementing agencies take ownership and ensure mainstreaming of these solutions themselves.”

The approach to test any innovative solution prior to full implementation is solely based on ‘over-promise and under-delivery’ from off-the-shelf solutions. Testing in the local public sector context involves adaptation and modification to South African conditions, needs and sector-specific challenges to ensure that service delivery is improved or enhanced.

The Solution Support and Incubation Unit at the CPSI ensures that a solution is well-suited for its environment and resolves the problem at hand, and then goes on to facilitate for its widespread adoption. Solutions that the CPSI supports come from several places, such as public servants who face challenges every day approaching the CPSI with ideas, the CPSI’s Research and Development Unit, and the CPSI awards, and through networking with other public service organisations, be they local or international. In fact, ideas developed outside of the country by international programmes run by organisations such as the UN, AAPSIA, CAPAM, and UNPAN Portal are also considered.

“Our role is to investigate whether the solution is suitable for South Africa, and also for conditions in the South African public service. Often we modify and adapt solutions in partnership with stakeholder organisations such as SITA, GITOC, CSIR, relevant government departments and, in some instances, private sector partners,” says Mthethwa.

“THE OWNERSHIP OF THE SOLUTION HAS TO BE WITH THE DEPARTMENT, AND THEY WOULD BE RESPONSIBLE FOR IMPLEMENTATION, REPLICATION AND MAINSTREAMING OF THE SOLUTION”  -LINDANI MTHETHWA

However, testing and piloting an innovative solution in the public service is complex. It’s not only the funding of the pilot that presents a significant challenge, it’s also managing change among public officials. In many cases, changing attitudes is the greatest factor determining if a working solution will be widely implemented.

An efficient and effective public service is possible, says Mthethwa, but it is vital that public servants  are innovative and empathic to citizens. “We need to remember who we serve: we serve citizens, and it is important that they get what they need and deserve,” he says.

Part of the incubation and testing phases will then be to engage people and demonstrate the benefits of the solution for their day-to-day work and for the citizen.

“Before testing a solution, we have to be able to pull everybody together. That is mostly to encourage ownership of the solution so that we ensure successful implementation and mainstreaming after effective testing,” Mthethwa says.

“As an example, we would not test and pilot a health solution without all the stakeholders being involved and giving the go-ahead. The first port of call would be to engage with the Department of Health, and say, ‘We have found a potential solution. Before testing it, let’s see how we can partner for that’.

“At the end of the day, the ownership of the solution has to be with the department, and they would be responsible for implementation, replication and mainstreaming of the solution,” he says.

There are numerous examples of solutions that have been implemented by the public service. However, the process of replicating and mainstreaming these ideas is the biggest challenge the CPSI faces. “Replication and mainstreaming solutions need to be planned for in the government’s budget processes. If this does not happen, there is the risk that mainstreaming the solution depends solely on the person championing it or a pocket of excellence within the public service.

Mainstreaming budgets

“Part of our drive at CPSI is to convince government departments to infuse tested, working solutions into their departmental budgeting process. The adopted approach for resolving this has been to create platforms for sharing lessons learned and best practices through our publications, conferences and rewards programmes.”

Another CPSI approach on innovation in the publicservice is to bring together relevant parties for the replication of a solution implemented somewhere else. This was the case with a solution implemented for a pharmacy at Jobs Tabane Provincial Hospital in North West province, which won the All African Public Sector Innovation Awards (AAPSIA) 2010, thus coming to the attention of the CPSI. The CPSI then proposed the solution to Helen Joseph Hospital in Gauteng (a long-term partner of the CPSI), where it has worked so well that the then-minister, Roy Padayachee, requested the solution be taken to KwaZulu-Natal hospitals as well as all Gauteng hospitals.

In an ideal partnership, ownership of such solutions would not be an added issue, but in the real world, intellectual property and ownership of solutions is a complicated affair, especially when the solution is from the private sector, but has used either government information or public funds to be developed. “To deal with this, we engage organisations like the Technology Innovation Agency, the Department of Science and Technology and the Department of Trade and Industry to assist us,” Mthethwa says.

It is through agreements with these entities, and  the support of public and private sector organisations that solutions are truly mainstreamed for greater benefit across the public service.