Government Innovation Isn’t Your Main Problem

Government innovation isn’t your main problem. It’s government’s.

After many years of unsuccessfully peddling the processes of social innovation to governments across Canada I’ve learned:

  1. Not to peddle process. Instead to focus on proposing bold, workable solutions to problems they are dealing with. Preferably backed by widespread public support. That challenge by itself is more than enough to keep citizens working double time.
  2. It’s a mistake to assume government doesn’t see the need for innovation. Just ask politicians with a new mandate or senior managers how tough it is to shift bureaucracies in the direction of their priorities. Chances are they are doing something about it.
  3. That an awful lot of innovation goes on inside government. It’s just not labelled “innovation.” Although it may be innovative, those public service practitioners often steer clear of that terminology. They want to get things done without drawing undue attention to what their superiors might think is too risky.
  4. If government does ask for help with innovation methods make sure it is applied to a specific challenge. Otherwise it has no hope of changing the way “government does business.”

The most consistent advice I have received from good people in government whether elected or employed is, “by all means tell us what to do but don’t tell us how to do it. Once we have been given the green light, we’ll figure it out and make it happen.” I’ve also observed that even without a green light many dedicated public servants will work quietly laying the groundwork for action once enough public support has been generated to encourage political boldness.

Many dedicated public servants will work quietly laying the groundwork for action once enough public support has been generated to encourage political boldness.

An undue focus on making government more innovative might inhibit you from working with the innovation that is going on and the innovators who are doing it.

NOTE: If governments are looking for innovative approaches to implementation they need look no further than the folks at City Studio. Among their specialties is bringing out the ingenuity of municipal public servants.



Reposted with permission from Home page image: o.tacke

About the Lead Author

Al Etmanski
Al Etmanski is a community organizer, social entrepreneur and author. ( (@aletmanski ) His latest books are Impact: Six Patterns to Spread Your Social Innovation and The Power of Disability: 10 Lessons for Surviving, Thriving and Changing the World. He is a faculty member of the Asset Based Community Development Institute (ABCD), an Ashoka fellow, senior fellow Social Innovation Generation and Co-Chair of BC Partners for Social Impact. Al is co-founder of Planned Lifetime Advocacy Network (PLAN), a family run social enterprise assisting families address the financial and social well-being of their relative with a disability, particularly after their parents die. He proposed and led the successful campaign to establish the world’s first savings plan for people with disabilities, the Registered Disability Savings Plan. John McKnight endorsed Al's book Impact by saying: Impact is a chronicle of the wisdom Etmanski has gained in exploring the keys to long-term social change. His findings lead us out of the past and onto a pathway for progress in the 21st century. Once describing Al as an Abundant Community Pioneer, Peter Block wrote: Al Etmanski is one of North America's best social inventors. He has looked beyond traditional institituions and their failures to create new means of achieving a better life. His analysis of the forms of organization that enable local communities while avoiding rigid hierarchies is groundbreaking. His book A Good Life is a wonderful and practical guide to the potential for neighbors to grow strong through the power of hospitality. Michael J. Fox said of Al's latest book, The Power of Disability: This book reminds us of what we have in common: the power to create a good life for ourselves and for others, no matter what the world has in store for us.

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