Just over a year ago, I accepted a job with Canterbury-Bankstown Council as the Digital Innovation (Smart Cities) Program Manager. Which means Im responsible for leading the largest Local Government in NSW, and fourth largest in Australia through its innovation journey.Now, Ive been working as a government innovator for a number of years, but this is the first time Ive ever had the word innovation in my job title or position description, a testament to how much Local Government has caught up in the past year in Australia.
1 year into the journey, and we as an organisation have achieved a lot. Ive been overwhelmed by the support and growth of the innovation program at CBCity, recently reflecting on the successes Im incredibly proud of in a recent post which you can read here.
Im frequently asked about my thoughts on Innovation in not only local government, but the collective public sector, and the state of play at any given point in time. So Ive wrapped up a few reflections from the past year below, reflections which Im sure will continue to evolve, just as they already have as public sector innovation as a construct rapidly gains momentum.
It takes a village
Quite literally. No one in charge of City Management Innovation could ahieve their goals in isolation. Every single person plays a role. From the local businesses, community members, engaged staff members and Councillors. Every single person has a role to play in innovating.
Our successes do not belong to us, and thats the way it should be!
The role of a public sector innovator is to help knit innovation and operational excellence into the very frameworks and cultures of what an organisation does. That means our achievements do not belong to us, they belong to those we have helped achieve. The Smart CBCity Roadmap introduces an analogy of a Smart Conductor. Its not our role to play all of the instruments, we have excellent subject matter experts for that. Our role is to help guide each individual member to come together and bring some magic to the mundane. And when someone nails their solo, or gets it just right, all of us benefit! I take just as much joy from watching someone achieve what they thought was impossible in their job as I do from achieving it myself, and thats the role of an Innovation Manager in the public sector. To be the biggest cheerleaders of the people ultimately responsible for delivering improvements and innovation from their own areas of expertise. Were all working towards the same goal.
It doesnt matter what were called Were all doing the same things.
1 year into my role and I can honestly say, Ive been called everything from a Smart Cities person to a Chief Innovation Officer. Ive conversed with many people from all over the world with a similar objective: deliver a better standard of government for the customer. Its a really rare occasion though, when two people who are doing the exact same job for a City – Innovating, have the same job title.
Theres the classic Chief Innovation Officer, Chief Technology Officer, Chief Digital Officer, Chief Knowledge Officer or Chief Futurist (Ive noticed the Americans really love their chief titles). I like to think of these guys as the out-and-proud superheroes They have the cool job and the impressive costume to match.Theyre able to achieve a lot and create a cult following for the good of the people.
Theres the more conservative Innovation Agent, Innovation Officer, Innovation Manager, Head of Innovation, Director of City Future or Executive Director of Innovation. I like to think of these guys as the fearless disruptors, the Jason Bournes of Innovation – the badasses, if you will. You wont see these guys donning a cape, their costumes are more often than not regular clothes with a few battle wounds or dirt which let you know, theyre resilient as heck and never to be underestimated.
And then, quite possibly the most impressive of them all, the camouflaged. The Finance Managers, Governance Officers, Waste Truck Drivers, CEOs, Regulation Enforcement Officers and everyone in between. The people who have no reference to innovation in their job title (or likely in their position description), but they work hard to innovate in order to deliver a better standard of government. These guys are the bravest of them all and prove that not all heroes wear capes.
Even though Government Innovation is somewhat normalised, no one really gets it… still.
Innovative concepts are new, meaning theres often very little empirical data to help predict the outcome. A lot of what were doing is testing and designing the future.
Government processes and policy take time to change. Government culture takes even longer. While weve come so far and achieved so much, a lot of people still dont understand, or have vastly different viewpoints on what government innovation is, what it should be achieving, and what the future might look like.At this point, I think itd be fair to say its still a lot of opinion or at best, educated guesses.
This is a really exciting concept, because were quite literally building the future and designing a legacy which will outlive us all, even if we get it wrong sometimes.
Start It doesnt matter where Just start
The state of play in local government can sometimes feel like everybody is just waiting for someone else to pave the way. Smart bins and smart poles are two of the most popular technolgies on the market today which Councils are buying into, because there are plenty of use cases and success stories to go around.
When we truly put the customer first, it shouldnt matter what has empirical data to back the investment, and whats already been de-risked by other Councils trialling and testing, we should really be looking at customer needs, rolling up our sleeves and just getting started. We might not always get it right, we might pivot scope, but the important thing is, we started, and that in itself is a feat many wont achieve due to analysis paralysis!
People are the most important part of the innovation journey.
Not only are people the responsible entities for being innovative but the reasons in justifying the need for innovative government processes are to better meet the needs of the people.
Over the past 12 months (and for many years prior), Ive had hundreds of conversations about making sure our work as public sector innovators is human focused. No Im not saying that as a buzz word. Humans are responsible for designing innovative government process for other humans, and they have a moral obligation to speak with other humans about their needs, but also ensure that they technology or innovative mechanism in which theyre employing, does in fact work for human beings rather than blindly enforcing solutions.
Failure needs to be redefined.
As government, people have an expectation we will protect their interests better than say the commercial sector would. People have higher trust in government, not to exploit them than they do, say of a bank or a social media site. People are also, slightly more forgiving of government to not be as innovative, because they understand the risks associated. But that patience is wearing thin as the customer needs gap continues to grow at a rapid pace.
As government, we need to redefine what it means to fail. Failure isnt spending money and having a good crack at solving a problem only to realise 6 months in the hypothesis or solution being tested doesnt optimally meet the needs of constituents. Theres an element of beauty in the fact that we tried, and the findings, although not the optimal solution, will bring us one step closer to finding the right solution. I would posit that failure, means never even trying at all, something far more dangerous than a little scope creep or scope pivot.
Theres power in numbers, but we still havent figured out how to harness that potential yet.
An end-to-end pipeline for delivering true government collaboration doesnt exist yet, but ask almost anyone who works in government, and theyll tell you we need it. Government is massive. In Australia alone, there are more than 550 local councils. Collaboration in its current state depends on relationships. What you know is dependant on who you know, but you cant know everyone, and this means of collaborating and maximising the value of numbers is ineffective… Our customers deserve better.
I dream of a future where Federal, State and Local government in Australia works more cohesively together to achieve real outcomes for citizens. No more double handling.
I advocate for this on a daily basis. I work with the federal and state government to connect and collaborate not just for CBCity, but other cities. I donate my time to Standards Australia to deliver better cohesion in the smart cities Australian landscape. Ive even worked hard in the Sydney region to connect people and get everyone collaborating. But Im just one person, and we all need to commit to collaboration. If anyone has a way I can contribute to this on a grander scale – I want to hear from you. Send me a message or get in touch through LinkedIn and well get a plan in motion.
Innovation managers will be obsolete eventually, and I love that for us!
Controversial statement, sure. Do I stand by it Absolutely.
As we make progress in government innovation, and continue knitting innovation into the fabric of the culture and the organisation, there wont be a need for a central person to manage that journey.
When I say this in the wild, most people gasp in disbelief that Im essentially doing myself out of a job. But Im definitely not worried, and heres why other innovation managers shouldnt be.
Innovation tends to sit as an umbrella concept for government organisations. Which other role would you have such exposure and oversight into all corners of an operation, except at the very top? The skills, resilience and leadership built in tenure as an innovation manager are transferable to other roles and industries. Its no wonder were seeing well known innovation managers around the world progress into more senior roles.
There shouldnt be a need for someone to manage innovation in 10 years if weve done our jobs properly. There wont be a need to convince people of the benefits of government innovation if it simply becomes part of what an organisation does.
So there it is. Some of my top reflections after a year as an Innovation Manager, and a decade advocating for public sector innovation.
Please keep the conversation going in the comments section below, talking about these concepts allows for greater transparency which benefits us all in the long run.
Have I missed anything? Let me know in the comments below.
Petrhyce Donovan, Innovation & Smart City Manager at Canterbury Bankstown Council
You can find the original article here: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/reflections-government-innovator-1-year-petrhyce-donovan-1c/