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Get connected! Public Service Innovation Networks

With the Public Service Innovation Network launched and in full swing, now is the time to get thinking about how your civil or public service organisation can get its own innovation network up and running.

At GovLab, we’ve helped organisations to kick-start their networks. Here Anne Byrne shares just a few tips she’s accumulated along the way.

Be clear on the purpose

Before kicking off, have a think about what you want the purpose of the network to be, and who should be involved. Most public service organisations, when starting out, create a “practitioners” network, made up of people at all levels within the organisation who are interested in innovation. Its purpose is often to build up innovation capabilities, share experience, and spark ideas for collaboration. Network members act as innovation champions, who can help spread an innovation culture across their teams. If this is your goal, it’s important to try to get a good mix of people from across your organisation involved early in the network. Seek out individuals who demonstrate a creative mindset, and are willing to question the status quo. Being involved in a network gives you the opportunity to meet, share ideas and work with others you might not usually have the chance to collaborate with.

Find a sponsor

Innovation is a key component of Our Public Service 2020, and a strategic objective for the whole public service. The imperative for innovation is clear, and it’s on the agenda of leaders across all of the civil and public service. Having a member of your organisation’s leadership team sponsor and champion the innovation network gives extra credibility to the network, and will help it to achieve its goal.

Start with a bang

If you want to create a culture of innovation within your organisation, a launch event (virtual or physical) of your network is a good way to start. The launch event can set the tone for the network, and for innovation too. Keep the event interactive, creative and fun – and keep boring PowerPoint presentations away! Unleash your creativity and create some colourful posters, get some engaging colleagues to speak and create an event full of energy!

Create a focus

Aligning with public service wide events or initiatives like the Public Service Innovation Week or the Civil Service Excellence and Innovation Awards (CSEIA) can be a good way to give focus to the network. One network the GovLab team have worked with is building an innovation programme to lead up to next year’s CSEIA, for example. They’re training network members in innovation, running an innovation challenge in their organisation, and developing initiatives with a view to entering the awards next year.

Stay in touch

The best networks we’ve seen try to foster ongoing collaboration between network members, often through virtual channels. An online innovation platform or forum may not be feasible for most organisations, but there are lots of ways to stay in touch using the resources your organisation already has. It can be a regular network newsletter or section on the Intranet page, conference or video calls, or even a Whatsapp group or mailing list to share ideas and interesting innovation content.

Coordination not control

We know that an innovation network doesn’t just happen – it takes effort and work to get it set up, and to keep it running. It’s important to have people involved in organising the network, who can keep momentum going.

This doesn’t mean that all the work of the network should land on the shoulders of the organisers however, or that it needs to be too tightly controlled. A network’s strength comes from the ideas and input of its members. Let the membership shape the network and lead it collectively. Share the effort – and see what innovation happens!

A network of networks

Finally, remember that you’re not alone! Your innovation network is one of a number across the civil and public service. Connect with the Public Service Innovation Network, and collaborate with your colleagues in other organisations who are also working to develop an innovation culture across the public service.

Share your experience! We’d love to hear about how your organisation is connecting innovators and promoting innovation. Comment on this article on LinkedIn, or email Anne or Grace to share your experience.

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