Voices from Accenture Public Service

In my first post in this series, I discussed why public service agencies looking to innovate need to start with outcomes rather than technologies. In this second blog, I want to examine how they can ensure their innovation efforts are in fact successful. But first, to set the context, let’s look at some lessons I have learned in my own business at Accenture – because every day is a learning day, right? 

At one time, our role was to solve complex problems for a particular client at a particular time. This role created a dynamic focused on specific issues and innovating to find solutions to those issues. And while this dynamic has served us and our clients well over the years, it’s also one that I think is now being superseded by the evolving nature of innovation itself. 

Why? Because we’re now seeing a new pattern of innovation emerge: one where the greatest value can be generated by solving problems not within silos, but across them. Which means solving them for multiple organisations and entities, and – increasingly – entire industries and even by creating new industries. 

This is much more complex and difficult than innovating to create point solutions to point problems within one business. At the same time, it produces results that are much more profound, and whose impacts are several magnitudes greater. 

Not surprisingly, there are barriers to be overcome to achieve this sort of innovation. One is that very few organisations are geared up to make it happen, because of the breadth of relationships, technical expertise, and industry knowledge it requires. The other is that there can be a mismatch between the size of the investment made by each of the participants in the innovation process and the scale of benefits they achieve as a result.  

These barriers can be overcome. And when this type of multi-stakeholder innovation is done well, experience shows that everybody wins – across and often beyond the organisations involved, and in new ways that were hardly thought of at the outset. 

So, what’s the relevance to public services? Actually, it’s huge. By way of example, take the potential for police forces to use interactive portals to communicate more easily and effectively with other participants in the criminal justice and social care systems. In the UK, we helped West Midlands Police (WMP) create such a portal, by bringing together stakeholders including WMP, social services, and the community to co-design it.  

From the beginning of the project, it was recognised that WMP’s new portal would connect citizens not just to police data, but to a wide array of other community-focused information sources. It also offers better support for mobility, together with a new digital channel for citizens’ interactions with the police, including online crime reporting, statement generation, and crime tracking; as well as improving public satisfaction, these less resource-intensive channels are projected to generate major savings for WMP. 

Crucially, making this type of solution happen demands something much more complex to deliver than technology: collaboration – in this case between the police, social services, and community groups. For the innovation to work, these parties need to exchange information seamlessly. And the difficulty of getting this to happen is compounded by the fact that each of these stakeholders also has its own inherent complexities and interests.  

The only way to address such mismatches to everyone’s benefit is to get everyone together in a room and “rumble” – which is our name for an interactive workshop where multiple parties thrash everything out in a structured and highly innovative fashion. Then we take the outputs and apply user-centric design to create a solution that works for everyone – a truly lovable solution! It’s genuine innovation – and created through a new development and collaboration process that’s never existed before. 

Beyond the UK, this process is also underway in the US, where better public health outcomes are being achieved by bringing together and combining people and capabilities from the social services system with health, education and the police. For example, people with mental health problems who lack the funds to pay for the right treatment often end up in the public safety system – and indeed in prison. It’s like seeing a bad play unfold, and multi-agency collaboration is the only way to rewrite the script for a better ending.  

Another area ripe for multi-stakeholder innovation and collaboration is border services. How can we secure the border, while making it pleasant for travellers to pass through and allowing them time to spend money at airport retail outlets? The answer is to bring together the various stakeholders – border agencies, airport operators, airlines, retailers, travellers and more – again, in a rumble. We’ve done this several times. And created innovative outcomes that met the agendas of all these diverse stakeholders. You really have to see it to believe it… 

The message is clear. The future of innovation in public services is multi-agency, meets multiple needs, and generates benefits in multiple dimensions. It’s harder and more complex than traditional siloed, focused innovation. But when it works, it’s incredible. 

In my next post – the third and final in this short series – I look at the challenges posed to public service agencies by the sheer speed of today’s innovation, and how they can use flexible technology platforms to keep pace. More to come… thanks for reading – do let me know what you think. 

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