Looking to the future, one theory that increasingly catches my attention is that of ‘collaborative innovation'. It's part of the move away from the outdated concepts around new public management towards ideas around new public governance.
So what’s it all about? Whilst new public management focused on markets, competition and customers and obviously delivered benefits for some, it failed to deliver innovation for the public themselves. New public governance is more about actors across the public, private and third sectors coming together with service users, through partnerships and networks, to learn and contest each other’s thinking and generate new solutions to the challenges society faces.
When looking for different options to cuts and financial austerity in current times, public innovation has been described as the intelligent alternative. Some commentators suggest the public sector doesn't have innovators or entrepreneurs in its midst, but evidence does not bear this out. APSE’s view is that people with these skills do exist within local government - and it's senior management’s role to not only identify and find them but create the environment where they have space for their ideas to flourish.
APSE’s publications Municipal Entrepreneurship, produced in partnership with De Montfort University, and Innovation on the Frontline, with IPPR, provided numerous examples of where these attributes exist and are being effectively deployed in local government. We have also published hundreds of case studies on income generation. And over the past couple of decades there have been huge public sector innovations on matters such as how we sort, collect and dispose of waste, how we have switched to more preventative care for the elderly, how education is provided online and how digital communication has shifted the way the public consume services.
However, with the scale of the financial challenge we face my view is that we need to go much further than the current insular level of innovation and embrace the ideals of collaborative innovation. This means engaging all actors at play within the public sector, service users, the third sector and the private sector but this time in a way that captures that innovation for the public benefit rather than handing over services and assets for others to strip the value they hold.
Collaborative innovation will require leaders to rethink their role in the organisation in order to encourage and facilitate innovation and entrepreneurship amongst staff and managers at all levels.