What can the public sector teach firms about innovation?

Wayne Story
Eastbourne Borough Council has won plaudits thanks to a new management team (Source: Getty)

Effecting change can be difficult for all organisations, but particularly for established ones with an entrenched position. It’s exactly this struggle which makes it hard to react to a changing environment and to meet changing customer expectations. After all, standing still in any sector quickly turns into going backwards.

So what can be done? I think that private enterprises can learn a lot from what is happening in the public sector.


Public organisations are under immense pressure to deliver transformed services to a growing and demanding population, with unprecedented cut backs in spending. Budgets in local government have shrunk considerably since 2011. In this environment, innovation and creativity are imperative, and so is culture.

A good example is Eastbourne Borough Council. Formerly a poor performing authority, with culture and infrastructure concerns, the council is now receiving plaudits thanks to the efforts of a new management team which revolutionised the organisation.

Internally the council has re-shaped its structure and technology, streamlined processes, rationalised property and implemented an agile working environment, all designed to improve the provision of services to customers and achieve significant efficiency savings.

Externally, the council is responding more quickly to the people it serves, who are now able to self-serve, winning an award for its work in digital planning applications. Here are three key takeaways from its success.

Create a clear vision and a taskforce

All organisations need a clear vision and a strategy that is understood at every level. Clear priorities aligned to a future vision allow everyone in the organisation to be inspired, proud and connected to the contribution they are making.

Firms should consider setting up an internal “innovation board” by identifying key revolutionaries and giving them specific responsibilities and objectives, supporting them to drive change across the workforce.

Re-shape organisational structures

It’s not enough to demand change. The right structures, processes, partnerships, technology and tools must be in place to enable it. It’s time to move away from a traditional departmental structure and build a collaborative one, where silos are broken down and customer focus is devolved among the entire workforce. That same workforce needs to be empowered with clear objectives, flexible working processes and rewarded for success.

Practice what you preach and take action

The biggest barriers are not just related to technology or resources: they are people’s attitudes. All organisations looking to drive innovation, creativity and change need a style of leadership that creates a sense of purpose where they can sell a positive belief to their people, and turn ideas into action.

These points are elaborated on in our latest report, Invigorating the Public Sector Revolution, which discusses how organisations should lead a progressive workforce to empower the digital end-user.

It seems clear that the pace of change is accelerating in all sectors. Not everyone has the necessary skills and technology to manage and build on the shifts taking place. Leaders of all kinds must be investing in digital and building an IT infrastructure to facilitate rapid ongoing change and innovation. Alongside this, they need to be able to empower and inspire the wider workforce and take responsibility for building a culture which encourages employees to innovate and try new ways of working without fear of failure.

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