5 Obstacles To Making Your Local Government Innovative

In these difficult economic times local governments need to be more innovative in how they operate. Local governments will not be able to cut their way out of their current budget crisis, instead they will have to find ways of delivering services that are smarter, faster and cheaper.

Creativity and innovation are needed in local governments today. Holly G. Green wrote a great blog post recently where she listed ten items that make innovation in any organization difficult. Below I highlight five items from Holly’s list, which based on my 17 years of experience in government certainly fit and apply to local governments as well.

Here is a modified version of Holly’s list, with comments from me in italics:

1. We’ve always done it that way. When the organizational focus shifts to protecting the status quo, people stop looking for new processes or solutions. When problems arise, people tend to default to the solution that looks most like what has worked in the past rather than exploring new ideas or different ways of doing things. I cannot tell you how many times when I have asked why certain things are done in government the final answer becomes “we’ve always done it that way.”

2. The lone ranger approach. In many companies, one team or small department gets tasked with innovation. That’s like asking a single NASA engineer to develop a new rocket ship to take us to Mars. Innovation requires a combination of skills and talents from all areas of the organization. It does not flourish in isolated silos or hidden corners of the organization. Government offices operate very much as their own silos in many instances. One innovative agency is a great start but an innovative local government it does not make.

3. Failure not an option. Most organizations don’t tolerate failure very well to begin with. And once the mindset shifts to protecting the golden goose, failure becomes anathema to the organization. But failure goes hand-in-hand with innovation. If you’re not failing to some degree, you’re not trying or pushing hard enough. Failure in the public sector needs greater acceptance. Political opponents and the news media make failure tough to bear but I believe the public is more accepting of trying new ideas more than people realize.

4. Weak hires. Hiring people based on politics and not qualifications which is a common occurrence in many local government weakens the overall morale and talent level. As the talent level begins to decline, so do new ideas, new thinking, and successful innovation.

5. Lack of know-how. Employees need to have the appropriate skills and abilities to discover, evaluate, and execute on the best ideas. If you don’t invest the time and money to constantly develop those skills, don’t expect people to innovate on a consistent basis. People need innovation training and they need permission and support from their leaders to be innovative. Most local governments do not provide such training nor do they have a process for obtaining or implementing new ideas.

What do you think of this list? What other items would you add.


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