30 Jun 2010   |   News

Leadership not lightbulbs needed to nurture innovation

Innovation is not just about ‘light bulb’ moments of creativity, but requires strategic leadership, according to a new report sponsored by the UK government.

Innovation is not just about ‘light bulb’ moments of creativity, but requires strategic leadership, according to a new report on innovation in the public sector sponsored by the UK government.

The report also finds that a ‘one size fits all’ approach is not suitable for nurturing innovation and sets out a number of alternative models, suggesting where they are most appropriate, and offering guidance on how they can be supported.

‘Beyond Light Bulbs and Pipelines: Leading and Nurturing Innovation in the Public Sector,’ written by the UK’s Sunningdale Institute could become an important primer in the current era of austerity, in which governments are demanding that the public sector delivers better outcomes with fewer resources.

Sue Richards, co-author of the report and director of the Sunningdale Institute said, “We hope that public sector leaders use this report to guide them in developing the conditions for effective innovation within the public sector. As there is no single best way to do this, our report identifies and explores a variety of different strategies that have been successfully employed.”

There is as yet no clear government-wide strategy for innovation which is well enough articulated to provide an enabling framework across the many varied contexts of the public sector.

One of the reasons for the weakness of central government’s approach to its own innovation strategy lies in under-developed innovation capability amongst senior civil servants. To overcome this, central government should create a multi-disciplinary unit which has the capability to hold, and work with, the range of innovation types and support systems outlined in the report and with the capacity to engage with senior stakeholders to develop the case for innovation.

An important starting place for this unit would be to develop a suitable incentive structure within public services to create the motivation for innovation.

Motivation may be a thorny issue, but it must be addressed if public services are to become more open to innovation, the report says. Most of the systems which control civil service work carry implicit messages that innovation is not recommended.

Overall, says the report, in the UK public sector the incentives against innovation are greater than those for it. It proposes an innovation audit of systems such as human resources and finance, commissioning and procurement, information technology systems, estates and building management and any other systemic controls, to assess where traditional practices can be adjusted to create more space for innovation.