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Filed under: Development 2.0 Guest posts Social innovation

georgia's innovation team

Innovation in action: “…focusing on the processes not just the outcome, and putting citizens at the heart of its approach”

From county councils to government departments, institutions in the UK are thinking more and more about how to develop innovative solutions to the key problems faced by their citizens.

Increased fiscal pressures and heightened citizen expectations means doing more with less.

The conventional stereotype of a public servant being resistant to innovation and prone to inertia is totally out of date.

Public organizations require skills, resources, and expertise to better tackle inertia and embrace innovation.

All too often, governments focus on delivering the services people rely on today, thereby lacking the time and resources necessary to focus on investing in the future.

The UK Government is responding to this challenge by opening up space for innovation teams in the private sector.

Starting small

Using prototyping and experimentation to create trust and avoid risky shifts and costly mistakes, the UK government is focusing on the processes not just the outcome – all while putting citizens at the heart of its approach.

Inspired by this shift, we at the Public Service Development Agency of the Ministry of Justice of Georgia (PSDA) together with UNDP, are working to adopt a public sector innovations lens to improve service design, and help other government entities achieve the same thing.

The very existence of an in-house innovations management and research unit at PSDA innovative and unique for the Georgian context.

The fact that the unit adopts a broader, creative approach by working with other government institutions is part of our deliberate attempt to develop a systematic approach to innovation across a wide range of agencies.

With the aim of shifting from an engine of bureaucracy to an engine of innovation, PSDA came across additional sources of inspiration during a recent study tour to the UK organized with UNDP support and in partnership with FutureGov.

Mind the gap

By literally running from an agency to an agency via the London Tube, constantly being reminded to “mind the gap”, the study tour participants made the most of their time, visiting 17 organizations and attending a number of events. Topics ranged from innovations in local government to transforming public services to agile development in practice.

The tour covered a wide range of organizations from different fields and foci, including government innovation labs, think tanks, and social enterprises.

Each and every meeting presented us with a unique opportunity to learn first-hand how those agencies strive to deliver better services to their customers; be they residents of a particular neighborhood, the government, or society at large.

Meeting with FutureGov’s team of passionate professionals from different backgrounds showed us just how a successful citizen-oriented innovations team might look.

Examples of their projects like Lantern, Patchwork and Casserole Club coupled with Shift Surrey demonstrated that it’s possible to avoid the conventional fallacy of “hitting the targets but missing the points” so often encountered in public sector realm.

Our discussions with The Behavioral Insights Team were another striking point whereby we got to realize just how “doing more with less” is possible.

Their work is living proof that seemingly trivial changes to the way government designs and delivers policies can lead to better results for the wider public.

Our visit to the Government Digital Service made clear that what is often missing when governments aim to go digital: A dedicated team of professionals eager to start with small things - scaling up things that work and abandoning those that don’t - without losing confidence and wasting resources.

Principles of co-production and co-delivery were emphasized during the meeting with Nesta, while the i-teams report served as another important resource to see how different governments are establishing dedicated teams from all over the world to bring forth new and exciting ideas.

Finally our tour of the Makerversity exposed us to an actual “learning-by-doing” environment, with a group of individuals from different backgrounds working on their own experiments and inventions with no fear of failure.

I really believe that the reflections garnered from our trip to the UK can be translated into a roadmap for our own innovation team.

As Nesta’s Geoff Mulgan pointed out: “All governments need institutions to catalyze innovation.”

In Georgia, we have an institution in place. We do not have to start from the scratch; but we do have to reinvent ourselves to “do the right things the right way.”