Government has an obligation to protect our society and promote the welfare of its citizens. In this era of massive change driven by science, technology and new business models, Governments need to embrace an innovation culture. It is clear that those countries that are able to drive innovation will ultimately be more successful in growing the economic prosperity of their citizens.
There is nevertheless a dichotomy between innovation and safety – protection generally creates a culture of risk aversion and procedural structure – quite the opposite of an entrepreneurial mindset and culture. The regulatory role of government in protecting our society needs the structure and controls in all aspects of what we do – and without them we risk anarchy. In many ways our government structures are specifically in place to create change inertia – reducing the potential for a malignant individual or philosophy to take control of our future.
I have already advocated the need to embrace innovation– so how does Government embrace innovation when its whole ethos is centered on stability and protection? There are different challenges facing government:
- Encouraging innovation in the digital economy.
- Responding to innovation that may challenge the stability and safety of our society.
- Creating the digital infrastructure to promote innovation in the digital economy.
Most governments do reasonably well on encouraging innovation – with various levels of success. There are a range of innovation strategies from grants and hackathons to innovation hubs that provide physical space for innovators to develop their ideas. Most of this focuses on the premise that innovative Small-Medium Business will create economic value. This is particularly true at the local level. Some major programs focus on encouraging larger entities or industries to establish operations in the country or city.
The response to innovation has been mixed – for example the recent ban of Uber in London is driven by safety concerns but forgoes the benefits of innovation and creates significant inconvenience for consumers. There is no doubt that Uber introduces risks to safety – but the role of Government should be to embrace the innovation and quickly adapt to make sure that safety is maintained. Government is not particularly good at rapidly assessing and managing risk, and this is a capability that needs to be developed within agencies so that they can more readily provide appropriate policy and regulatory responses to the disruption. The intent must be to find answers – how does government impose regulatory controls that protect safety while allowing the innovation to proceed at a reasonable pace? This new capability is clear gap and need in the operational structures of Government agencies responsible for governing our society.
The final challenge is perhaps the most difficult and least successful – yet I think this is the most important. To date Governments have invested in the creation of the network infrastructure (to the significant benefit of local telecommunications companies) – while this cabling is important the digital highways of the future are not simply cables. Our digital future will be enabled by the digital exchange of services and information following standards and complying to regulatory controls. Government has a leading role to play in creating these digital exchanges – and needs to establish structures that are sufficiently independent to drive innovation yet have the mandate of government to manage standards and support compliance. We are conceiving new digital agencies that will eventually challenge and potentially replace the traditional government structures – we need to create this structural competition to truly innovate service delivery.