As an innovator, what sets you apart from others?
Innovation is not something out there for special people who work in fancy places. We are all innovating daily; most of the time we just need to stop and take stock of what we are actually doing and think of ways to strengthen our efforts. An innovator cannot work as a ‘lone ranger’; teamwork is of the utmost importance. You need to work hard to ‘infect’ others with your vision.
An innovator needs to be prepared to go the extra mile within the available resources of staffing, equipment, and time. Innovators must not forget the end goal: to make the patient experience better and, ultimately, improve quality of life in some way. For me, that means being the person who enjoys a challenge since it provides an opportunity to find solutions and grow in the process.
What drives you to innovate?
I have decided that if I am to continue my career as a Physiotherapist in the public sector, I cannot stand by and become part of the status quo; I must be part of the solution to improve patient experience of care through efficiency and access to health and rehabilitation services. The overwhelming response received from the end users, that is our patients and their families, is motivation enough to continue innovating.
How did you overcome challenges, especially in the public sector?
Strategic planning and goal-setting are vital to cultivating an environment for innovation, whether big or small. Despite staff rotation and turnover, the CHBAH Physiotherapy Management Team has built targets for various projects into departmental and sectional operational plans to encourage continuity and sustainability.
Our department has a culture of innovation and embraces quality improvement as the norm. We have an extremely coherent and supportive management team, who encourages each of us to be “almost competitive” in our efforts to improve services. Our Department Head is very much in touch with her staff, which encourages perseverance to achieve goals, despite low staff numbers and high workload.
How would you motivate others to become innovative against all odds?
When faced with something that doesn’t work well, you can either waste time moaning about it or you can use the time to brainstorm and try possible solutions: this is innovation. Start with something small where you are now; something tangible and achievable. You never know where it may lead…
A few years ago, we were given a sample of a wooden standing box to try out. It stood unused in one of the rooms until the owner eventually reclaimed it. In 2016, a visit from Sukumani Dream, whoalso started to make the boxes, convinced us to look once again at the roll-out of standing devices. This had been a longstanding desire of mine; however, it took a dynamic physio team to grab hold of this vision and make it happen. Our innovation journey started with the issuing of one standing box.
What factors impede innovation in the public sector?
Public servants often display low morale in the workplace. Factors such as poor physical working environments, a lack of resources, poor safety, a lack of support from supervisors and peers, and insufficient leadership and direction from management result in people feeling overwhelmed.
New employees may come with many innovative ideas but soon succumb to the atmosphere of “just getting through each day.” When we are in survival mode, we do not innovate. There may also be a lack of continuity due to staff turnover: valuable projects are not carried out for long enough to obtain results and lessons learnt are not handed over, thus it takes the next person a while to build momentum again.
What could government do to promote innovation in the public sector?
- Recognise employees and their hard work to innovate and improve service delivery at all levels in the midst of daily challenges.
- Facilitate ongoing training on innovation for staff at all levels, ensuring it is appropriate for their scope of practice and with practical components.
- Capacitate managers both psychologically and with the necessary resources: for example, sufficient clerks and support, staff so that managers can be more hands on to support their staff in efforts to do situational analysis, brainstorm and implement improvement projects.
- Provide ongoing reminders that innovation starts with the basics of courtesy and respect for our end-users.
Which accolades and awards have you received since being recognised through the Public Sector Innovation Awards Programme?
The CHBAH Physiotherapy Department was acknowledged for their innovative efforts in the winning Standing Box project by Minister Mchunu, Department of Public Service Administration and Dr Masuku, MEC for Gauteng Health, during a visit to the hospital in November, 2019. A spin-off from this visit was an interview about the project featured in the Gauteng Health Employee Value Programme (EVP).
An article on the ministerial visit was also featured in the DPSA Bulletin. The SA Public Sector Innovation Journal, Ideas that work, featured an article on the project that won Innovator of the Year in 2018. The SA Society for Physiotherapy’s Hands On publication also highlighted the good work being done in the public sector. During discussions with EVP representatives, interest was taken in writing up a business case for the CHBAH Physiotherapy Department as a whole, taking into account all the existing projects and service delivery initiatives. We were invited to present on the Standing Box project during 2019 at the launch of the CPSI awards, the CPSI conference, and the CPSI awards ceremony.