Simon Hill 11 March 2014

Open innovation is key for modern local authorities

Open innovation was originally championed by Henry Chesborough in his book, Open Innovation: 'The New Imperative for Creating and Profiting from Technology. It is built around the core assumptions that in a world of widely distributed knowledge, organisations cannot afford to rely on restrictive, traditional forms of research and insight and emphasises the importance of collaborating with shared risk for shared reward.

This has never been more apt than in the public sector right now, with the on-going pressure to improve efficiencies and services with ever-decreasing resources. The public sector must therefore be as open as possible when it comes to sourcing and capturing innovative ideas that can help address issues and improve services.

This can even be within policy development, involving collaborative and dispersed groups from across a spectrum of society to collectively develop potential new policy ideas. But however it is deployed, open innovation should be at the heart of modern local government.

Capturing ideas around policy and services is not new in itself of course. Consultations have been used to capture and gauge public opinion for years and since 2009, all public sector bodies in England (apart from police authorities) have had a statutory duty to ‘inform, consult and involve’.

But these consultations with individuals, groups or businesses are not perfect. Incomplete information is sometimes submitted to the consultation and there can be a lack of clarity as to what exactly happens, with minimal post-consultation feedback and outputs.

But advances in technology, and local government access to such technology, is having a major impact on open innovation. G-Cloud certainly has its critics but one thing it has achieved is to make it easier for local councils to buy innovative new technologies from smaller vendors. More than 60% of G-Cloud spend has gone to SMEs, who make more innovative and disruptive technologies that can make a major difference to local government.

This has meant that local councils all over the UK are making interesting use of open innovation. Hackney Borough Council was one of the first local authorities to use this technology to capture ideas and innovations in its Young Hackney initiative. Young Hackney aims to bring together Youth Services, Youth Support and Youth Offending Teams to holistically support young people. Staff at Hackney Council submit their ideas to improve operations and the best of these are fed into workshops and implemented to help support Hackney’s young people.

Launched in 2013, the West of England AHSN is one of 15 networks across England with an aim of transforming health and healthcare by putting innovation at the heart of the NHS. One of the ways West of England AHSN is doing this is by capturing ideas from across its 30,000 strong network (comprising of providers of NHS care, universities, industry, NHS commissioners and other organisations) to achieve measurable gains in health and well-being.

The technology behind open innovation is more readily available than ever before and the benefits are many and varied.Whether it is deployed to improve services, increase efficiencies or canvas policy opinion, open innovation is a powerful prospect for modern local government.

Simon Hill is MD of idea management firm Wazoku

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