Are you a GameChanger ? Can we help turn your idea into reality?

If you’ve been round bureaucracy for any length of time (and yes, folks, this includes anyone in the private, public or ‘third’ sector working for an organisation of any size) you’ll know how hard it is to get good ideas up from the bottom to the top. Toyota built its dominance on its capacity to harness ideas from the bottom. And policy competitions have been held in the Victorian public service to good effect in recent years, turning up some very good ideas I’m told. The reward? A couple of weeks off-line to further research the idea.

So I’m pleased to read about Shell’s Gamechanger program. From a blog I’ve just found when googling “public sector innovation” – It seems to be written from the Netherlands at a quick glance but it’s nice to see Australia featuring in quite a few posts – but I digress:

How about Shell and its Gamechanger-program? Big companies are not that different from government organisations in the sense that they have many management layers, a lot of formal rules and are dominated by the daily routine. Within big organisations its very hard to get good ideas from the bottom to the top, not to mention getting it from the top down to the bottom again. An inspired idea of a new possibility at the bottom of the organisation loses most of its originality and edge on the way up. Shells management knows that if it cant tap into the knowledge and ideas of its people in its daily operations, the company has a serious problem. So it set up a program to get radical ideas from everybody inside (and even outside) the organisation and created a high speed track for those ideas.

Lets say that you have a radical idea for Shell. You can submit that to the Gamechanger-program via a website. A small team that reports directly to the CEO Jeroen van der Veer assesses the potential. If they like your idea you have a meeting with them within two weeks after your submission. If they like you they will give you budget to further develop your idea into a proof of concept.

Depending on how promising and big the idea is, the Gamechanger-people will bring you to the right executive people directly and you get a chance to pitch. Shell puts around 45 million euros into the Gamechanger program every year, about 10 per cent of its total R&D budget. One of the strongest indications that its working: middle management hates it.

Looking at Shell’s Gamechanger webpage, it looks like Gamechanger is open to all, not just those in Shell’s workforce.  In any event, as the post observes:

It wouldnt be hard to set up a Gamechanger-equivalent in the public sector. If youre a politician or public manager, create a way for the really smart civil servants to escape from the formal hierarchy that you are responsible for. Find a way to select the best ideas, invite the people directly to your table, give them a budget to test those ideas and support them during the testing. There are a lot of entrepreneurial minds working in the public sector, but we hardly have ways to tap into them.

To which I say – both “hear hear”, and “here here”.

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15 years ago


Where have “policy competitions ..been held in the Victorian public service” pls?

Seamus C
Seamus C
15 years ago


You’ll be pleased to hear that the former UK environment secretary David Miliband (now Foreign Sec) used a much cheaper form of “innovation”. He asked for a notice board to be put in the reception of the Department building, where anyone could stick up ideas for change. This way he could in theory, read new ideas, every time he stepped into the building. He also used to, and continues to write a blog (which allows comments).

There were three problems with this of course. First is the accountability – why put something up when you don’t know whether it will get implemented. The Shell problem arguably addresses this. Second, you need to incentivise innovation throughout the organisation, and a noticeboard is but a drop in the ocean of doing this. Maybe the Shell design improves this a little bit but ultimately bureaucracies are incredibly good at stifling new ideas. Third, somehow you need to move beyond departments and out into schools, police stations, hospitals, because they are the front line. I wonder how shell does this – do people in oil rigs in the Caspian send in ideas?

But overall agreed – more innovation, using well-designed information systems would be good. I’ve often thought internal prediction markets within government could be a fun idea…until that is, the media found about it.

15 years ago

Santos tried something of the sort when I worked there, about 5 years ago. From memory, it sank without a trace.

15 years ago

IBM had something similar. For the last year or two they have had an “Innovation Jam”. It was a bit like the Gamechanger, but it was just a two week process and involved “innovation sessions”. I think the CEO committed to serious funding for the best ten ideas or so. Something like $10 million, or it might have been $100 million. I have to admit I was so cynical about the exercise that I did not participate but I should have. It seems they really did fund the ideas and put them in place. What was interesting was that alot of the ideas tended to be philanthropic. The only specific one I remember was to build backend software for microfinance organisations. Apparently existing financial software is can’t be used. Alot of the other ideas were like this. Things that were useful but probably not profitable, but they tried them out anyway.

I think the prior commitment to funding whatever came out of the process was the key. IBM is a *very* bureacratic organisation, more like a government department than a private company in alot of ways so if IBM could make it work government could too. Makes you wonder what would have happened if Rudd had committed a billion or so to the best ideas coming out of the 2020 Summit (or if someone does that in future).