Innovating the government

Blogikirjoitus  •  2012-02-20 15:03 EET

Earlier this month I visited the event Ambtenaar 2.0 (roughly translated Government Worker 2.0) in The Hague. At this event the aim was to share experiences about how to collaborate more effectively and increase innovation using social collaboration/media tools. The event was attended by more than 400 government workers in The Netherlands.

When you think of government workers you probably don’t think about innovation. This can be explained by the fact that the work of most government workers is highly structured, consists of many rules and legislations, and is highly influenced by a traditional work culture that simply does not support innovation.

However at the event, there was a incredible buzz and positive energy to learn how to become more lean, more customer focused and innovative. Several trends form the foundation for that. Firstly, like in any other organization also at the government the average age is decreasing. Younger workers bring different attitudes and new energy. Secondly, social media and social collaboration tools have entered the government. New tools support new ways of working and tear down organizational boundaries.

But to truly innovate a government organization, a cultural change has to take place. What probably sets a government organization apart from commercial companies is a strong fear of change. Of course we witness this also at our private sector customers, but this fear is more deeply rooted in government workers. To become innovative and allow new ways of working in to the workplace it is necessary to step out your comfort zone. The work culture at the government does not support this.

Maybe the government can learn from traditional organizations in the private sector. From our experience we see that the success of a social collaboration solution starts with asking yourself what specific challenge you are trying to solve for the worker. We use a very pragmatic approach and try not to address big picture challenges but look at measureable improvements.

In practice this means that small teams may experiment in real projects supported by their managers, however not involving IT departments or top management. It has proven to be more successful to show top management concrete results before introducing a new way of working or tool. On the other hand top managers are the most networked and benefit the most from social collaboration. Our solution has been specifically designed for networked collaboration thus introducing a tool for collaborating with external partners and across different layers of the organization can prove the benefits even more clearly.

To implement cultural change throughout the organization it is obvious that top management needs to support this, offer direction and a clear vision. There is no grand strategy or proven path of success to make this happen. Both bottom up and top down influences are necessary to increase innovation in an organization.

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