Fostering innovation in new public servants - Canadian Government Executive
InnovationsPublic Sector
August 28, 2018

Fostering innovation in new public servants

As a new professional working in government, I hear a lot about “innovation,” and I am regularly encouraged to be innovative and bring new ideas to the table. However, there is always more that we can do to create and support a truly innovative culture.

It is very easy for organizations to maintain status quo thinking and problem solving. Innovation can require change – change in process, in thinking, in how we approach policy – and this can sometimes be challenging for a variety of reasons. In order to fully support and engage new professionals though, it is important that they are encouraged to bring new ideas forward and think outside of the box.

From my experience, I have found three key ways that organizations can support innovation at all levels, and encourage new professionals to be engaged and feel as if their ideas and perspectives are truly valued.

  1. Empower staff to bring their ideas forward

There is nothing worse than bringing an idea forward and hearing, “Yeah, we tried that before, and it didn’t work.” New professionals are not always aware of the historical context of an organization. Programs and policies that did not work previously may have failed due to social and political factors that have since changed. Perhaps old ideas need a new perspective to find the missing piece that will make them truly effective. If new employees bring an old idea forward, give them space to explore the history and context of them, and allow them to put their own new vision to them. This may be the small tweak needed to bring forward a truly innovative change. A few ways that employees can be encouraged to bring ideas forward can include innovation time or discussions during routine meetings, separate policy or innovation discussions, or even a board located in an open area of the office that people can contribute to, and also potentially be inspired by.

  1. Break down silos

True innovation cannot happen in silos. It is so easy to focus in on our immediate unit or branch when dealing with challenges, and we often neglect to seek out other perspectives. True innovation requires us to consider diverse opinions and perspectives; sometimes, those outside of an issue have the best perspective on what may truly improve it. As a new public servant, I think organizations are doing a great job of fostering connection through increased dialogue and connection among coworkers, workshops, and education sessions where people from a variety of backgrounds and subject areas can meet and explore issues. I think there is still some improvement that could be made though, primarily in ensuring that diverse perspectives are considered at every step of the policy process. This can be done through greater citizen and stakeholder engagement, connecting with others working in similar areas and engaging in a project or hot topic exchange, or through an online innovation intranet. Through an intranet, current issues or ideas that people are working through can be shared, and anyone in the organization can contribute their thoughts and perspectives, allowing for diverse views and perspectives to be fully considered.

  1. Provide innovation space

A great opportunity to encourage and support innovation is in creating a dedicated space for people to come together, brainstorm, and discuss ideas. Cubicle and open-concept offices can mean that spur-of-the-moment brainstorming is disruptive, and there is not always a free room to move into. Having a space dedicated to innovation would allow for those brainstorming sessions to happen organically, and encourage them to occur more. This space would ideally be stocked with all of the tools necessary for brainstorming to happen: sticky notes, a whiteboard, markers, pens, and paper. A dedicated space would encourage people to leave their desks, invite colleagues from across the organization in, and fully discuss an issue and potential solutions.

My experience as a new professional has been so positive in regards to innovation. My ideas have been heard and encouraged, and I’ve been able to take part in a number of workshops and sessions to develop and practice innovation. We can continue to build off this great work, and truly support and foster a culture of innovation. By doing so, new professionals will be encouraged to bring new and challenging ideas forward, and explore how they can contribute new and innovative ideas to every aspect of their work.

 

About this author

Meaghen Boiteau, MA, MPP

Meaghen Boiteau, MA, MPP, Senior Policy Analyst, IPAC-Saskatchewan New Professionals Chair.

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