In my last blog, I explored how human service leaders need to step up to deliver the innovation that citizens so clearly expect. Walking the talk on innovation and in turn fostering a culture that promotes innovation within the organisations are both essential steps towards realising the promise of new approaches and technologies to deliver game-changing results. But it’s not just within their own organisations that leaders need to seek inspiration. Working with others outside their own agency boundaries is also vitally important.
That’s why we increasingly see innovation leaders developing ecosystems of partners. For human services, these would include education, employment, social services, tax agencies, training providers and the private sector who need to coordinate to achieve a shared set of outcomes and find new ways to address their complex challenges. So, how do leaders make this shift to a ‘boundaryless’ mindset and explore partnerships across the ecosystem? There are three main traits that leaders exhibit:
Be open to outside-in innovation
Leaders cultivate a mindset that welcomes new ideas, wherever they come from. But they go beyond simply being receptive to new thinking, they will commit to developing and co-creating viable proposals into proofs of concept and pilots. Sixty-three percent of innovation leaders compared with 45% of other human service agencies actively pursue and encourage the development of ideas that come from outside their organisation. That’s exactly the approach taken by Pôle Emploi, the French employment agency. It set up a lab that aims to be an accelerator of good ideas, open to its employees, the public, start-ups, partners and other companies. The Lab brings together more than 800 experts, 20 fields of expertise and hosts a drumbeat of over 100 sessions and workshops to generate, test and scale new ideas.
Tailor partnerships to objectives
While leaders are open to innovation from many quarters, they are also focused on the objectives they want to achieve. For that reason, they make sure that the partnerships they cultivate are tailored to meet specific objectives. So, for example, they may look to start-ups for innovation input for a specific service or a professional services provider for more strategic innovation. Prior to opening its digital hub in Manchester, England, the Department of Works and Pensions’ digital team hosted a hackathon, “Hack the North”, designed to develop new solutions to tackle local unemployment. They opened the hackathon to anyone with digital skills, enabling them to use open-source employment data to develop digital solutions, ranging from simplifying the onboarding process for newly unemployed to gamified CV, through to jobs and skills matching applications.
Delivering on innovative ideas
Being open to where new ideas come from is one differentiating quality that leaders share. But how those ideas are developed is also important. Leaders embrace digital tools and platforms to bring people together to share knowledge and encourage productive exchange. They harness data sharing with specialist ecosystem partners to enhance and gain new capabilities. And rather than taking a command and control approach, leaders play an orchestrating role – empowering different partners to work together to solve common problems. Finland’s employment and growth services agency, KEHA, proposed the development of a platform of platforms that connects all employment stakeholders. Open to citizens, private and public sector employers as well as other agencies, KEHA is delivering next-generation employment services that go beyond simply matching the unemployed with open roles, but provides a whole range of development services that enable jobseekers to plan their career development and employees to hone their talent strategies.
As the examples I’ve highlighted show, human services innovation leaders are looking beyond their own organisation to discover, incubate and scale new ideas. Collaboration with a variety of third parties is essential to develop new outcomes for citizens. That’s widely recognised. But there’s also a paradox that many need to overcome. To create solutions, data sharing is essential, but often meets resistance from citizens. The key to overcoming that is to demonstrate the value and prove that their data is being used to create new, ever-more personalised services that will have a positive impact on their lives.
To find out more, take a look at our Innovation with Purpose report.
In my next blog, I’ll look at another key element of driving innovation: the wealth of new technologies that are reimagining the art of the possible for human services. In the meantime, if you have any comments or questions about innovation ecosystems, please get in touch.
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 Accenture Intelligent Technologies in Public Service Research, 2016