The independent evaluation of our first learning programme in Victoria showed that working on real-world projects over an extended period enabled public servants to take action and develop an innovation mindset – but that there’s still more to do to translate this into broader change across an organisation.
Here we share the key insights of the evaluation on what works and what doesn’t in building and spreading innovation skills in the public sector.
Our pilot learning programme, run over 2018 in partnership with the Victorian Government in Australia, was evaluated by The Policy Lab at the University of Melbourne. They were tasked with understanding:
- which aspects of the programme had the greatest impact on innovation learning and
- any factors shaping the enduring impact of the programme on the Victorian Public Sector
They used a mix of pre-programme surveys of participants, learning reflection essays and mid-and-post programme interviews with participants and their executives (project sponsors) and throughout were given full access to participants of the programme, our partners in the Victorian Government and attended a number of the face-to-face training sessions with teams over the year.
You can also read a full summary of the findings.
It’s all in the mindset
One question of the pilot programme was whether we could cultivate an innovation mindset, moving away from methods based approaches. Given the nature of the challenges government and public officials face, capacity building cannot be something packaged into a specific method, practice guide or toolkit, rather it’s a way of approaching your work.
The evaluation report found that:
“In the mid-programme interviews, the majority of participants identified the procuring and usage of new tools as the key take-away. However, after graduation, participants identified cohort engagement and the development of an “innovation mindset” as the most important aspects."
For us, this is an encouraging sign of a transition that starts with a specific tool or method and shifts towards a group of people who were navigating the complexity of their environment to sense-make and problem-solve in new ways. A different way of thinking, a different mindset.
This shift from tools to mindsets is in line with our hopes for the transfer from a learning programme to culture change in government. In this programme, there was a strong emphasis on innovation practice via tool based approaches. The hypothesis being if we can introduce the application of innovation skills and tools, this will build experimental habits and behaviours, which will increase and encourage an experimental mindset which will then create an experimental culture.
While there was no significant organisational impact, the shift from individuals and teams using tools to having a more experimental mindset is encouraging. It speaks to the possibility of a shift in the broader culture.
'Doing' is key
If this programme had only increased participants awareness and excitement for innovation we would have failed. So we were pleased to see the change from an initial self-assessment of participants as being receptive and enthusiastic for innovation into an application and spreading of innovation craft. It wasn’t just hot air.
Working on a live government project with real consequences over nine months meant that the participants’ focus was always on doing, on impact and action. By learning and testing new approaches throughout the programme and in real environments, they were able to build their experience and craft to then continue to apply and share the new approaches. There’s only so much you can learn in theory and it’s good to see that validated.
Learning the 'craft' of innovation
We threw the kitchen sink at this programme, and it appears to have paid off. When asked which aspects of the programme most helped change individual and team skills, participants generally ascribed it to the totality of the programme journey.
Afterall, if there was one thing - one silver bullet - for change, someone would have found it by now. Until we do, there’s no one thing that will enable the uptake of new ways of working and new approaches to problem-solving. Just as there is no one recipe or codification for innovation craft (although we have explained further what we mean by developing a craft). It’s from the often messy combination of conditions, skills and exposure to new ways of working that we see people emerging with the confidence and ability to navigate their environments with an experimental mindset.
Our programmes create an immersive learning focused on the concept of innovation craft. We are not trying to teach this stuff in a classroom. That meant over the 9 months there was a combination of learning formats, continual access to experienced practitioners and peers and an ever present emphasis on in-practice rehearsal. These were all core components of our pedagogy going into this pilot.
Individuals change faster than whole organisations
Overall participants were cautious about the enduring impact of the programme beyond their individual development, and they felt that the impact of the programme on the broader organisation was limited.
How to make an innovation craft ‘stick’ and spread is always going to be a challenge. We still believe that by ‘infecting’ (aka upskilling) individuals and teams, in combination with other interventions at executive and ecosystem levels we can shift the government culture towards a more experimental one. The scale of this ambition will take time, and we don’t intend to be any less ambitious.
We will be more rigorous in how we look for early indicators of longer-term enduring impacts in individuals, teams and their organisations. In part using the Impact Framework for Culture Change with the people we’re working with to do this better together.
So, what next?
As a result of our own learning during the pilot and these evaluation findings, we have made changes to the next iteration of the learning programme running in Australia and New Zealand and I‘ve written about what those changes are.
There are still many questions to ask, and many more assumptions to be tested as we continue to design and deliver future innovation learning programmes. As an evaluation of a pilot programme though, and considering that participants and sponsors unanimously agreed that the programme should be offered again, we think we’re on the right track.
We know we’re not the only ones grappling with these questions and want to speak to others in this area. Please get in touch with me, Nicole, on my email address, or drop us a line through our Twitter.