Queensland as impresario

ChangemakersOn Tuesday I gave a talk to a Queensland Public Service Conference. The Conference is quite a production. It’s a regular annual fixture and makes a good profit. Over 500 people attend and they take the opportunity to fund some excellent speakers. Dominic Campbell who founded FutureGov and is doing great things in the UK – and now here – spoke on the second day as did Gary Sturgess who was his thoughtful, and conservative best even if I didn’t agree with him on a number of points. International authorities were beamed in by telepresence.

In any event I gave a talk entitled “Impresarios for public and social innovation: Why and How” in which I put some major themes of my ‘innovation without money’ message which I’ve been peddling around Canberra and elsewhere. There are, in short, all sorts of ways in which governments can drive innovation and better outcomes without spending lots of money. I gave lots of examples of public-private partnerships in the above linked talk and in my Brisbane talk to the conference I gave my 23andMe example and some of the design work of the Australian Centre for Social Innovation to illustrate the idea that there are lots of ways in which governments can do great things using instruments at its disposal other than funds or regulation. Governments have substantial convening power and convening power matters more and more as the world becomes more complex and less amenable to coercive solutions. It is also often the case that the architecture of the way systems work matters hugely and yet is often not something that is top of policy makers’ minds.

This was well received but my one regret was that in meeting my agreed allotment of time for my presentation, I truncated the end of my speech in which I was going to make two suggestions – offering two ways in which the Queensland Government Public Service might like to play the impresario.

Firstly as I’ve suggested to some other public agencies, they should think about adapting corporate social responsibility in the business world. They shouldn’t think about what might be called ‘defensive’ CSR which involves corporates doing nice things to protect their brand and avoid nasty PR – more office recycling, that kind of thing. But positive CSR is often driven by a search for the best employees – who disproportionately want to do stuff that makes them feel they’re making a worthwhile contribution to the world.

Now public agencies don’t tend to think that they need to do that because all their time is spent serving the public interest – or it’s supposed to be. But pro-bono work often breaks up the monotony and sameness of private sector work. So I think it would be an interesting experiment to invite public servants who wanted to, to do some ‘pro-bono’ work following their own passions. To prevent it being available to the drones and dead wood that also lurks in the PS one might limit it to being provided as a reward for high performance (then again one could experiment with it to improve the motivation of demotivated people – who knows – you could at least trial it for a limited amount of time – but I digress.)

In this regard I’ve suggested that a department or public agency might like to sponsor the Australian Centre for Social Innovation run Changemakers Festival. As part of the sponsorship, an agency might run an internal competition for people to compete to work on a project with some local social innovator. Winners of the competition might be given 20% time to do this work and some fine connections might be made and mutual gain in knowledge and resources might be had.

Regarding my second suggestion for the Queensland Public Service they’re pretty much there already. In 2008 Recommendation 10.3 of a Review into Australia’s Innovation System proposed that the Australian Government:

act in concert with an appropriate university partner such as the Australia and New Zealand School of Government, to hold an annual international conference on innovation in government, with the aim of it becoming the premier international conference on the subject – the Davos of public sector innovation.

The event is already a big deal in Queensland and it would take a small lick of money to seize the day and implement the proposal. Gary Sturgess reported that the metrics of employee engagement in the Queensland PS are encouraging after the slashing and burning and so this would be a great way to give the resurgence more momentum and, by becoming the impresario drive a bit of chutzpah led growth.

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