Ministry of Electronics & Information Technology
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How an Idea Management System can Accelerate Innovation in Government

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How an Idea Management System can Accelerate Innovation in Government

Applying Digital India to the Process of Public Sector Innovation

Let’s start with a question. How many employee ideas does the Government of India implement per employee per month? What about individual Government departments? Take the case of any Government department/unit you are familiar with, and ask this question (guesstimates would do).

Now, imagine this. What if we could achieve a hundred-fold increase in the number of employee ideas implemented by the Government? Wouldn’t even a ten-fold amplification in the idea execution rate contribute substantially towards improving the performance of the public sector?

Is it doable? If yes, why does it seem that we are at present, not able to tap the potential of employee ideas adequately?

Simple: innovators – organizations and individuals - face multiple challenges. An Idea Management System is one tool which can convert these challenges into opportunities. An indicative list of such challenges and corresponding opportunities is given below.

Challenge

Opportunity

Scarce Resources:

All organizations and managers are called upon to continuously do more with less. This is perhaps particularly true for the public sector, as reflected in the catchphrase and philosophy, “Minimum Government, Maximum Governance”, of the Honourable Prime Minister.

Our People:

For most if not all Government organizations, their most invaluable resource is their people. However, their potential lies largely untapped, hidden and under-utilized. An idea management system is an opportunity to develop our people and empower them to contribute for organizational improvement and innovation.

Islands of Wisdom:

The structures and systems we have devised to ensure order and efficiency have also erected boundaries within and among departments. These boundaries encourage working within silos, and make it difficult for the organization to harness its innovation potential adequately. Thus, an idea with organization-wide applicability remains confined to an island; and an idea which can spawn many other ideas fails to give birth to them.

Organization-wide Collaboration:

An idea management system offers to make collaboration and team-work the norm, rather than the exception. Organization-wide sharing of an idea not only enables its wide adoption and full exploration, generating potentially numerous other ideas for organizational improvement; but also builds camaraderie and mutual respect, improving organizational culture and performance.

Lack of Employee Motivation:

A quintessential problem, this is sometimes more entrenched in Government departments. This cripples organizational innovation, which demands that everyone – not just the management – puts on a thinking hat and is able and willing to go the extra mile in contributing to the organization.

Employees as Innovation Partners:

By asking employees to be thinkers and innovators, an idea management system enriches and enlarges their job. It is a tool to enhance employees’ self-worth, bring about greater job engagement, organizational commitment and superior performance. Moreover, being intimately familiar with the work they do, employees have been found to come up with some of the most innovative and impactful ideas.

 

A systematic process is required to convert such challenges into opportunities, as above. Evidence from hundreds of diverse organizations shows that innovation does not happen on its own; innovation has to be managed actively. Further, as innovation researcher Tim Kastelle says, innovation is the process of idea management.

Thus, ideas are the key ingredient in the innovation process, but without a mechanism for managing them, it is difficult to prioritize innovation efforts and to channel innovation activity into the areas it is needed most. An idea management system can be of immense help in this regard.

The benefits of a systematic well-run idea management system would far outrun the ones initially envisaged. The impact it can have on the organization can be nothing short of revolutionary, in an incremental fashion though. It is a tool for organizational transformation which thus marries the inherent incrementalism of Government systems with the high aspirations leadership and citizens have for the end-goals of public service delivery.

What is an Idea Management System?

An idea management system (IMS) is a systematic, formal mechanism for soliciting, generating, developing, evaluating, selecting, implementing, spreading and learning from large numbers of ideas from anyone and everyone in the organization.

ims

HOW AN IMS ASSISTS IN THE INNOVATION PROCESS

Here is how an IMS can assist at each stage of the innovation process.

Innovation Phase

How an IMS assists

Idea generation – finding, adapting or creating the ideas

An IMS can encourage employees to put forward ideas. An IMS can help in the process of refining and iterating those ideas by allowing others to share their perspectives and inputs.

Idea selection – picking which ideas to use

By letting others be aware of suggested approaches, ideas can be tested early through sharing of experiences, limitations and impacting factors, and possible improvements to the idea.

Idea implementation – putting the ideas into practice

An IMS can assist implementation if it records lessons learnt, identifies options that have and have not worked, and codifies what made the implementation successful.

Sustaining ideas – keeping the ideas going

An IMS can assist the embedding of ideas by outlining the need for an idea and providing a reminder of the problems faced before it came about.

Idea diffusion – spreading the ideas and the insights about them

By recording the ideas and the resulting action other areas facing a similar or parallel issue may be better able to see potential solutions.

(Excerpted from the Public Sector Innovation Toolkit, of the Government of Australia)

HOW AN IMS IS DIFFERENT

An idea management system possesses the following advantages, which the file system and the committee system lack:

Ø  An IMS is open to ideas from everyone in the organization, irrespective of their rank or division

Ø  Transparency and sharing of ideas becomes a force-multiplier

Ø  An IMS can allow even anonymous posting of improvement ideas, thus potentially reducing some of the inhibitions which prevent people to come forward with their ideas

Ø  A well-designed IMS serves as a database of problems, solutions, implementation approaches and lessons learnt; this is a huge asset for the organization which can spur further growth and innovation.

Success Stories

Many organizations from diverse industries, across the globe, belonging to the for-profit, non-profit as well as government sectors have been using idea management systems very effectively, in order to manage their innovation activities and improve themselves continuously. Some examples from the public sector are given below:

1.      Department of Agriculture, Government of Australia

2.      Department of Industry, Government of Australia

3.      Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Government of United States of America

4.      Department of Homeland Security, Government of United States of America

5.      US Coast Guard

6.      US Transportation Security Administration

How an IMS can help our Government Departments

Most Government departments and organizations of India - at the Centre, state and local levels - can benefit immensely from an idea management system, as at present, most of them are understood to have no systematic way of welcoming new ideas, developing them and implementing them. Having such a system will enable us to institutionalize innovation as an integral part of everyone’s daily work. It will also enable us to realize more fully the potential of the innovations that we do make. It would also enable us to better communicate the innovativeness of our organization to the top leadership of the Government as well as to the public. It would set our organizations on a firm path towards continuous improvement and sustained innovation.

Evidence from organizations from a wide variety of sectors across different countries demonstrates that the number of employee ideas implemented per employee per year is a very good indicator of organizational performance. Organizations that are able to generate and implement large numbers of employee ideas consistently outperform those that fail to do so.

However, evidence shows that employee ideas do not come about consistently and in large numbers just by the management asking for them or by placing suggestion boxes. A well-performing idea system has been found to be necessary in order to generate lots of employee ideas and to implement them. Such an idea system has been central to the superior and sustained performance of many organizations. A good idea system has often yielded nothing less than revolutionary improvements in achievement of organizational goals. Toyota is one such organization which credits its idea system as central to its exceptional performance.

The most invaluable resource the Government has is arguably its people; the innovation potential of this resource is however not tapped adequately. An Idea Management System is one tool our Government departments may use, to tap into this potential.

Now, how to do it? I would suggest an implementation roadmap soon, in another post. Meanwhile, why don’t you think of this idea, and share it with others too? That way, we can hope to generate even better ideas - the essence after all, of the innovation process.

 

- Dheep Joy Mampilly @DheepJoy, Indian Information Service, Government of India