Innovating in local government delivers better outcomes

Here at Astrolabe Group we really enjoyed working with Liverpool City Council to help them develop an Innovation Strategy that will support the roll out of the Council’s Strategic Plan over the coming years.

When we did this work, we looked at examples from around the world to understand what would deliver a successful innovation strategy. Here are five key things we learned.

1. Understand what innovation means

There are many definitions for innovation but a good way to think about it is that innovation is an idea that is new to the user and has purpose. Innovation is often described as something practical that turns ideas into actions that are repeatable and that have value.

Innovation is not about invention.  Nor is it about scientific or technological knowledge. While these things are innovative, they also need to be implemented, and used to be labelled as an innovation.  Innovation then is not just about big ideas, rather it is about seeing how things can be done differently and working to achieve it.

2. Innovation is needed in local governments

Reading about innovation shows again and again that innovation gives private companies a competitive edge, allowing them to enter new markets.  Just as innovation allows private companies to be on the offensive against competitors, local government can use innovation tools to be proactive in meeting local needs.

Local government is at the forefront of interactions with citizens, so they are uniquely placed to both understand and meet community needs. Innovation allows local government to take the lead with partners and stakeholders (universities, other tiers of government, private companies, etc) and deliver new ways of working.

3. Tools for innovation success

Examples from around the world showed that the key to innovation success is people, both people connections and meeting people’s needs. Technology is rarely the key to innovation success but rather relationships and human-centred responses. Successful innovation then is associated with bringing together like-minded individuals and organisations to work together, as well as end-users and funders.

A key tool for innovation success is leadership.  Leaders set and support the strategic vision for innovation. They set the level of risk appetite associated with innovation. Leadership drives an innovative internal culture and ensures investment via budgets and time in strategic plans.

4. Innovation strategy must-haves

Our reading of international examples showed that an innovation strategy must include:

  1. A demonstrated link to the leadership role of the organisation, and the leadership aspirations of the organisation’s leader
  2. A clear link to the priorities of the organisation and how the innovation strategy will help deliver these. Innovation is not its own end goal.
  3. Implementation tools and measures of success.

5. Guidelines for implementation

When looking at innovation strategy examples, some common features stand out for successful implementation.  First, articulate the role of the organisation in relation to other stakeholders (including other tiers of government, universities, companies, etc).  Second, be selective about priorities, identify those that innovation will support and are most likely to bring about long-term change. Lastly, be systematic with internal and external aspects worked on at the same time.

There are many tools to help develop innovation in local government and other organisations. Our approach at Astrolabe Group is to focus on the innovators not the innovation. This creates an innovation ecosystem that everyone, from citizens to new inventors, are active within. For local councils, this is a win-win. There is better understanding of the needs of people within their jurisdiction, and improved solutions that engage a wider range of stakeholders who together make an area a great place to live, work and play.

To find out more about our approach to innovation contact Kim Johnstone.