Research demonstrates that professionalism is associated with increased innovation in the public sector—meaning that as public managers exhibit more professionalism, they are more likely to engage in innovative decision-making.
Public managers use innovative techniques and exercise their discretionary power when creating public policy in an effort to create and implement policy that is efficient and effective. Because of their professionalism, public managers often possess the technical knowledge and skills necessary to successfully navigate the intensity of public problems and goals.
Professionalism refers to a number of characteristics of an individual such as: level of education, tenure in a position, membership in professional associations, association with a network of peers, pledge to a code of ethics, and on-going training.
Innovation leading to greater efficiency and lower cost is thought to be commonplace in the private sector; and even though the public sector has lagged behind in achieving these increased efficiencies, there is now a greater focus on its need to be innovative.
Some recent examples of innovation in the public sector include: updating 911 communications systems to allow for pictures and text messages to be sent to emergency operators, using GIS and cameras so that citizens can see live traffic situations to avoid construction and accidents, creating wiki manuals, and developing offices of innovation at all levels of government.
Obviously, innovation doesn’t just happen by accident. In order to create a culture that encourages innovation, public managers can try some (or all) of the following techniques to see what works in their communities.
- Look at issues from many different perspectives.
Consider and ask how your citizens view your agency. Social media allows us to interact with the public in ways that never before would have been imagined.
- Allow for mistakes and let your staff know missteps are expected.
- Allow staff members to participate in training opportunities and be involved in their professional organizations.
This will naturally lead to more innovative decision-making.
- Divert a small part of departmental budgets to innovation.
While innovation does not have to (and perhaps shouldn’t) cost even a penny, this action will demonstrate the commitment of the organization to innovation.
- While it may seem counter-intuitive to this discussion, don’t reinvent the wheel.
Many organizations offer a wealth of information when it comes to innovation in the public sector. For example, the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at Harvard’s Kennedy School provides a robust marketplace for ideas and examples of government innovation.
How do you encourage innovation in your organization?