Saturday 10 September 2011

Risk aversion is killing local government innovation

Usual disclaimers here. One persons view etc.

Innovation, to me, is experimenting. It's playing with things and seeing different outcomes depending on different inputs but most of all, it's about never before tested inputs. If you just re-invent the wheel, you'll just get the same outcomes. Always get, always got yada yada etc etc.

Instead, different inputs mean thinking differently. It means approaching systems and processes like a chemist - you've got 15 different chemicals which could equate to 15 different people, Departments, sets of data or system configurations - and you sit in your lab and systematically and with testing, lots of testing, and recording of outcomes, you work out what is possible and what is not with those 15 different outputs.

It's not an instant process. It's not predictable. If it's actually innovative, I don't believe there will be prior case studies to reassure, nor predictability even in outcomes to inputs. In the same way that two people can come from exactly the same backgrounds and turn out differently, an app, for example, launched in one area may absolutely bomb in another and we are not yet far enough advanced and with enough data at our fingertips to predict that.

Now an app is an expensive experiment. But there are other experiments which are not expensive, or rather may seem expensive on the surface but where the cost can be minimised with a little attention to detail. This reduction in cost leaves you to focus on the true desired outcome with is 'will this work here?' Is this of value, who to if so, what's the investment, what's the persistence of outcome?

Innovation isn't tidy. It cannot be neatly explained in zeroes and ones. I believe it should be chaotic, disordered and yes, involve a little bit of risk.

Local government as a national entity is mostly risk averse. So while I do not believe it is impossible to innovate within local government, I do believe there needs to be a culture change and a fundamental acceptance that innovation is difficult. For some it is painful, frustrating, annoying, irritating, stressful and a constant source of sleepless nights.

Being first means taking risk. It can be minimised but it can never be eliminated.

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