The process described below (and depicted on the Guide Page) is as a result of our own work as the CPSI in working with different departments, in different sectors and through interactions with other countries. It is by no mean a blue print. It should be adapted for each organisation’s specific context.
For the sake of logic, we are presenting it in a linear way, but we would like to state that it is a messy process where some parts can develop simultaneously or new insights may take you back to square one.
Before attempting to solve a problem, it is important to investigate the challenge in order to establish the root causes. This will ensure that you do not address superficial manifestations of the service delivery challenge, rather that you address its root causes. It is important to define the problem to avoid misdirecting the solution. This will also allow you to identify and explore solutions that are responsive to the challenge. So here we are advocating for a challenge-driven innovation process, rather than ideation where innovation ideas are generating not based on a particular challenge. We believe that in the public sector we need to innovate in order to solve a specific challenge.
2. Solution mapping
Once a challenge is identified, a responsive solution needs to be investigated. This investigation may result in the adaptation of an existing solution, where a solution that has been implanted in another department for a different purpose can be adapted to suit the needs of the challenge. In general, many skip this process, and too easily state “we need an innovation”. It is important to thoroughly research potential solutions, also those in other sectors before embarking on a high-risk solution development journey.
Where there is no existing solution, you can embark on a development process for a solution. It is important that the people who have identified the challenge work closely with those that will use the resulting solution. Important here is the person or persons that want to solve the challenge, not who has what skill. They are the ones that understand the challenge better and can better articulate what solution they want to solve the challenge, where possible, they need to be given space to develop the solution.
In cases where a similar challenge has already been solved in another department/sector, there should be efforts to adapt the existing solution instead of coming up with a new one.
It is important that the developed or adapted solution is tested and piloted in a safe environment to enable refinement before full scale implementation. This will ensure that shortcoming and unintended consequences are identified early and resolved before the project is mainstreamed within a business unit, a department, a municipality or a province.
Testing a solution also assists in demonstrating the value of a solution. The solution can then be implemented once the pros and cons have been established.
During the testing and piloting of a solution (and even during the idea development), it is important to be aware of intellectual property expectations and restrictions, as most individuals and organisations feel they should derive some benefit from ideas they conceive or solutions they develop. We suggest the following:
- Create a more open culture of collective idea sharing and development, and help public servants (and service providers) recognise that they are likely to generate many ideas but that they need to share ideas to get them implemented.
- For public servants, formal rules about intellectual property are governed by employment contracts, so we should be clear about these rules before a solution development process even starts, and look at alternative rewards or recognition.
- For service providers working with government, solution development can be supported through direct procurement or (joint/indirect) grant funding, such as with Technology Innovation Agency (TIA). These engagements are governed by intellectual property-related Acts and organisational contracting terms. In general, public sector entities need to find a balance between ensuring they are able to use innovations (including data) that they have invested in without paying unreasonable fees, whilst allowing (especially local, emerging) innovators to make sustainable commercial returns from selling the innovation to other private and public sector entities.
- Whilst formal protection of intellectual property, such as through patents, may be necessary in certain cases; public sector entities should be aware of the significant administrative and legal costs associated with this form of protection, and instead explore other methods for recognising contributions such as through Creative Commons licensing.
Put simply, what works needs to be shared! If the solution is successfully implemented it needs to be scaled up in other areas, sectors, departments where a similar challenge is being experienced. This will ensure that the impact of the innovative solution is not only felt in the sector, business unit, department where it was implemented. Government then also does not waste resources in developing various solutions in different departments just to solve one problem.
The CPSI promotes replication and scaling through networking. Through the CPSI Public Sector Innovation Conference, workshops and Ideas That Work, The South African Public Sector Innovation Journal we provide the opportunity for learning and for seekers of solutions to identify and connect with those that have solutions. Departments are encouraged establish such networks in provinces and municipalities, not necessarily hosting a conference, but through smaller groupings that allow space for exchange of experiences and solutions. Emerging entrepreneurs and civil society activists are important knowledge brokers and we need to create pre- or non-commercial spaces (such as open pitching events) for them to introduce new ideas to public servants.
The department with the solution needs to be willing to assist in scaling up the solution by giving time for those project leaders/innovators to assist where they are invited. These can be regarded as innovation champions that need to be supported by the departments where they come from and the CPSI. MECs and Ministers can accelerate the introduction of new ideas by highlighting possible impact, facilitating initial introductions, recognising and motivating managers from the highest level, and/or setting an implementation target.
There is no blue print on how to create an environment that allows innovation to flourish in an organisation. Innovation starts with people so it is important that the environment they work in recognises that. A culture of experimentation needs to be created. We have a good example from the Groote Schuur Hospital where they encourage employees through a competition, to come up with solutions to identified challenges and the winning solution gets funding to implement the solution within the hospital. That has helped ensure that the hospital becomes one of the most innovative hospitals in South Africa.
Other methods include knowledge management which allows employees to be exposed to new solutions and ideas. Innovation advocacy by those who have successfully implemented innovative solutions to solve service delivery challenges can also assist in inspiring others.
This is a continuous part of the innovation process. It is parallel to all the identified processes as it can either inspire the need to innovate or lead to scaling of impact. The Public Service Regulations (section 50) makes provision for incentives for public servants that bring in innovative solutions. These do not have to be in monetary terms, for instance acknowledgement by a Minister, Deputy Minister, MEC or Head of Department. This often encourages the innovator to do more, whilst it inspires others.
An enabling environment requires interventions at three levels, namely the individual level where skills and attitude is important, the organisational level where mechanisms (such as providing space for experimentation, funding and knowledge sharing) and the systems level where innovation is brought on par with other values and principles. The OECD’s Determinants model (below) is very helpful in determining appropriate interventions.