Why Government Needs our Help

The central characteristic of most advocacy is to get the right proposition in front of government and to lobby for its acceptance and implementation.  However even when a commitment to action is secured there is often a failure to implement.  It has dawned on many of us there are other forces at play.

In fact I am now of the opinion governments are experiencing a certain paralysis.  Their challenges are accelerating, becoming more complex and more furious.  It's not that there aren't visionary, talented and creative politicians and public servants.  There are.   However the environment and context for 'doing' good public policy has shifted in the 21st century without a corresponding adjustment. The 'tools' of public policy are simply outdated.

The best summary of the forces driving the need for innovation inside government along with the corresponding reasons why it hasn't happened is contained in Christian Bason's book, Leading Public Sector Innovation: Co-creating for a Better Society.  Christian has appeared in these blog-essays (bl-essays) many timesHe is Director of the Danish Mindlab – with a mandate to achieve citizen centred innovation in collaboration with business and the community.

Alia Institute's (Authentic Leadership in Action) recent newsletter, Fieldnotes, excerpts a key passage from Christian's book.  It covers seven 'Driving Forces' shaping the acute need for public sector innovation.  These include: Productivity Imperative, Growing Citizen Expectations, Globalization, Media, Demographic Change, Shocks and Climate Change.

To sum up these driving forces embody a double challenge between adaptations to (planned, internal) on-going public sector reform on the one hand, and (emergent, external) turbulent socioeconomic driving forces on the other hand.

Unfortunately, most public sector organisations today are ill-suited to develop the kinds of radical new solutions that are needed. The rate of change and the turbulent environment dramatically increase the risk that public organisations lose even more of their touch with the enterprises and citizens they are meant to serve. Research from, amongst others, the US, the UK and Denmark show that most modern public organisations’ innovation capabilities are focused on internal administrative processes, rather than on generating new services and improved results for society.

Christian then lists seven barriers to public sector innovation which include: Paying a Price for Politics; Anti-Innovation DNA; Fear of Divergence; Where's the Citizen?; An Orchestra without a Conductor; the Scaling Problem; and the 80/20 Rule.

… evaluation has become such a prevalent tool in the public sector that it risks overshadowing the need for faster, more experimental, forward-looking problem-solving. When it comes to their development efforts, public sector organisations seem to spend 80 percent of their energies on understanding the past and (at best) managing the present, and perhaps only 20 percent of their efforts on systematically exploring future directions for better policies and services.

Christian's book and his continuing work at Mindlab doesn't stop at critique.  He offers an abundance of solutions emerging globally.  However, reading his essay reminds me to look with softer eyes at those who are dealing with the challenges our governments face and to reach out to our many allies inside government who recognize and are doing something about them.  Their assumption is they can't do it alone.  Neither can we.

Related Links:

Christian Bason – Becoming Visible 2011: Citizen Insight

Why Don't Public Servants Open Their Windows in the Morning?

Who Invented the Committee?  – an Overview of Change-labs

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