The launch of the 2020 Annual Innovation Awards Programme took place under extra ordinary circumstances due to the COVID-19 Pandemic. At the close of 2019 when we ushered in 2020, none of us ever knew what the year we so fondly called “20plenty” had in stock for us. Sadly, already a few months into the year, we have lost many along the way. However, we have survived – and as the saying goes ‘life goes on” and indeed, “all this shall pass”.

In launching the Annual 2020 Public Sector Innovation Awards programme, there was no doubt whatsoever about the critical role that innovation plays as the back bone of every successful organisation. As Edwards Lowe puts it, “by encouraging employees to be creative you are launching a powerful in-house think tank…”.

However, true as this might be, the reality is, getting public servants to be creative and innovative is not always easy. There are many barriers that stand against innovation in the public service. One of such barriers is the cumbersome bureaucracy. Historically, government and bureaucracy have always been comparable to Siamese twins.  Therefore, looking at government which is, admittedly, bureaucratic and beyond that, dogged by so many other counter innovative factors, can we justifiably talk about surviving and innovating under such circumstances?

Saying that innovation in the public service is near impossible no matter how high the stakes might be, is to me not only extreme but mostly somewhat counter intuitive. More so if you look at the impressive footprint that the Public Sector Innovation Awards Programme has left over the years, innovation is possible in the public sector, provided the right environment is created.

One of the key enabling factors behind the creation of an enabling environment for innovation to thrive in the public sector revolves around the role of leadership. The role of leadership in driving innovation in the public sector can never be overemphasised. According to the Centre for Creative Leadership Studies, leadership behaviour contributes between 20%-67% towards the ability of the employees to explore innovation. This means that leaders must act in ways that promote and support innovation. Some of our leaders are left wanting in this regard.

Below are some of the practical ways in which leaders at all levels can encourage employees to be innovative as recommended by the Centre for Creative Leadership.

  • Don’t pop the balloon – put a little more air in the balloon – meaning do not throw darts at the idea
  • Allow “google time” – time to innovate
  • Encourage employees to hang-out with People Not Like You. “PNLUs”
  • Encourage ‘possibility thinking”
  • Accept failure as learning as the saying goes, “ if you don’t fall now and then you are not really trying.”
  • Provide training
  • Ask questions that encourage innovation

These tips, which I should believe are just a tip of the iceberg, will hopefully guide and empower leaders to execute their key responsibility of creating an enabling environment for innovation in the public service.

As part of its strategic objective to unlock innovation in the public sector, the CPSI has over the past 18 years, unearthed a number of innovation through this programme. This programme has been very critical in helping the CPSI to find, promote and incentivise innovation in the public sector. This is not only about recognition but also a way to encourage replication and mainstreaming of innovative solutions that solve service delivery challenges. This programme serves as a safe-haven for public servants that are not happy with the status quo and would like to ‘shake the tree’ by suggesting new ideas and ways of doing things.

For instance, over the last few years the programme was able to find a number of in-house coders/ developers. These are ordinary public servants who use their skills to solve a service delivery challenges.

We are proud of the contribution that public servants are making to make service delivery easier.


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