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Think of innovation and chances are tech giants such as Apple, Google, and Uber will spring to mind. They are, after all, some of the most disruptive innovators of our time. Look beyond the world of technology, however, and we find an altogether different kind of innovator: Government.
Innovation within government entities may not grab headlines in quite the same way as its private-sector counterpart, but the potential of government-led innovation to impact societies and economies worldwide is just as great from a socioeconomic impact perspective. Currently leading the charge to realize that potential are the U.S., UK and UAE governments. Each has its own national specificities to consider and has defined its national innovation strategy to fit ambitions.
In the UAE—a country that aims to be one of the world’s most innovative by 2021—the national innovation strategy comprises four tracks. These tracks encompass the establishment of institutions and laws that foster an innovative environment, encouragement of private sector participation, education, and the institutionalization of innovative practices within government bodies. Across MENA, and on the wider global stage, it is this latter component that requires particular attention.
Government entities have the power to innovate and should treat innovation as a strategic priority. For the UAE, and other countries now setting out on their nationwide innovation journeys, success for government bodies hinges on fostering a culture of in-house innovation, in addition to the wider ecosystem. In fact, in today’s context of greater demand on government services, fewer resources, and divergent societal needs, enabling culture to flourish within government entities is now vital. For innovation to take root, there are several key steps that government entities can take, ranging from a clear definition of innovation scope to designing innovation enablers.
For the first dimension, with social development, cost reduction, economic growth and alignment with national strategies all in the mix, defining a scope is more complex for government entities than it is for private companies, where the focus is largely fixed on financial goals. In the quest to define a clear scope in a sea of competing factors, government entities can begin by answering some fundamental questions: What do we want to achieve through innovation? How do we plan to use innovation to improve our services, products, processes or policies? And, what role can we play within the wider national innovation ecosystem? The latter is dictated in part by how innovative a given organization can realistically be, as some organizations may aspire to sustain existing service levels, while others may strive to serve as a disruptive force.
Once the innovation scope is defined, the next step is to design a seamless journey for the innovators and develop enablers around it. These enablers typically cover several elements: Technologies and tools, governance models, workforce skills and capabilities, and culture and awareness. Such enablers should be carefully implemented to align incentives in the organization and establish an effective culture of innovation that serves the aspirations of the government entity.
The plethora of factors that must be considered when developing these enablers and defining the scope are indicative of a broader reality: Innovation at the government entity level is not simply a question of overcoming a single challenge, devising a strategy, or developing an innovation incubator. Rather, it is a question of embracing all key components and institutionalizing them firmly within each entity. Only once this is achieved can a government truly innovate.