Thursday, March 03, 2011

Social Innovation- is this the way forward?

Being an advocate of social innovation I would say ‘of course’ but it depends on your definition and what your own particular situation is. I will start by making things complicated and offering two not entirely unconnected definitions.

Forget the use of the word ‘social’ to mean outside work and think of what it could mean. When we are being social we are interacting, sharing, caring and even building. We are essentially social beings (although some do like being alone) so why not focus on a type of innovation that makes use of our social characteristics?

In simple terms, think of innovation as a ‘people thing’ rather than a ‘gadget thing’. That is not to say we cannot have shiny gadgets, but that we should focus on how they got to be there (innovating rather than the innovation). This then leads to the possibility of innovating even when the output is not an innovation (perhaps a process innovation). Such a type of innovation is thus appropriate both inside and outside of the workplace.

So what about the other kind of ‘social innovation’? This is most definitely linked to the community/region/country as a whole. You should be thinking of innovation in community projects, healthcare, employment opportunities, arts etc. A good example might be the micro finance initiatives that have sprung up in many developing countries. We need this kind of innovation too.

Many countries are in a mess (the recession) and are cutting costs (in the public sector). We need to revert to being social creatures again or there will not be any people with any money to buy the shiny gadgets that we used to think of as innovation output. Businesses producing shiny gadgets will go bust leading to more misery. The UK government’s idea of ‘The Big Society’ to counterbalance the public sector cuts will fail dismally without a modicum of social innovation.

So the answer is that YES we most definitely need social innovation however you define it.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Should The Public Sector Be Quite So Public?

Is transparency costing us dearly?

I was speaking to Dr Paul Thomas (of BBC’s Ban The Boss programme) and something that he said stuck in my mind. He stated that ‘monitoring costs’. This is so obvious but I had never heard anybody say this before. Each time that we want to monitor something we have to define a process or assign someone to keep a look out. In many cases we might have to create a job for someone to oversee this. Thus a seemingly simple act might cost say £15,000 to £20,000 per year minimum. Why do we need to do this at all?

All across the country there are groups of people who are demanding to know how much their local council is spending on paperclips and they are justifying it by saying that if waste is eliminated our council tax will go down. Similar arguments are put forward for the Health Service and other public sector bodies. Why not simply say to the nosey parkers that the records are there for them to look at if they wish to fish in the filing cabinets and let our public sector workers do the work that they should be doing?

Isn’t it about time that we began to trust each other again? So what if my local council spends an extra £100 on paperclips as long as they deliver the service that they should? On the flip side, public sector employees and managers must understand that they are required to do their jobs as efficiently and effectively as possible. £100 on paperclips or £20,000 to monitor the stationery budget? It is a no brainer.

Recently I have spoken with many public sector managers, and budgets are being cut but the demands for accountability are increasing which are pushing up costs!! Since this is a zero sum game,  something somewhere is suffering. It is, spending on actually delivering services is being reduced.

Let us trust one another a little more and reduce the bureaucracy and overheads associated with monitoring and accountability. Let us reduce the number of managers, and learn to manage our public sector in a different and more effective manner. We really could reduce costs and maintain the standard of our services for long as possible. Let us be a little less public!