Measuring Innovation in the Public Sector: a literature review

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Australian Developments

‘Measurement efforts should focus not only on monitoring efficiency and costs, but also on providing a broad set of indictors that can shed light on innovation processes in public sector organisations and show how these can help governments meet their goals.’
– OECD, Measuring Innovation: A New Perspective (2010)

As of April 2011 there is no indication that any Australian public sector agency has developed a comprehensive system as seen in some countries overseas to measure public sector innovation. The following information is provided to give a sense of the developments in progress.

1. Australian Public Service Commission – employee and agency surveys

In the absence of surveys which focus exclusively on innovation, the Australian Public Service Commission’s annual State of the Service Report, which collects information about a range of issues, is currently the best source of regular information about APS employees’ perceptions in relation to innovation, as well as about agencies’ performance in areas such as strategies to encourage reasonable risk-taking and to identify and reward innovation.6 These surveys provide a number of measures of innovation in the Australian Public Service, including a measure of individuals’ preparedness to be innovative and their perception of agency support for innovation.

Recent surveys have found that while employees have a strong desire to work flexibly and to try new ideas, they feel their agency, and the APS more generally, does not always provide an environment in which innovation is encouraged and supported.

Agency responses have suggested that: there is no clear and consistent understanding of ‘innovation’; larger agencies are more likely than smaller ones to have innovation policies in place; and different size organisations tend to focus on different types of innovations.

The APSC has identified 14 workplace factors which are strong drivers of employee engagement in the APS; employee engagement has been found to strongly associated with a willingness to be innovative. Recent State of the Service Reports provide information about how some APS employee perceptions related to engagement compare with those of public sector employees in the UK, the USA and Canada. These surveys do not focus on innovation, but focus on employee satisfaction and commitment and other workforce issues.

2. Australian Government agencies

While many Government agencies are actively pursuing measures aimed at increasing innovation and establishing and maintaining an innovation culture – in other words, at doing innovation -- there is very little information available about what organisations are doing to measure innovation capacity and performance. Leading agencies such as the Australian Tax Office do not include ‘measuring innovation’ when referring to key strategies and commitments relating to innovation.7 The 2009-10 State of the Service Report includes information about workforce monitoring initiatives such as the Department of Defence’s ‘pulse’ survey conducted three times each year to obtain information from employees about issues such as job satisfaction and career satisfaction and to facilitate strategic workforce planning.

3. Australian States and Territories

The Victorian Public Service has developed an Innovation Action Plan which focuses on increasing collaboration, building capability, generating ideas and sharing information and data to embed innovation across the public service.8 The Action Plan was developed with the aid of qualitative information acquired through a series of in-depth interviews and is currently being followed up with a survey.

Western Australia has also been active in encouraging public sector innovation, having held an inaugural Innovation Workshop for public sector managers in 2010 and published the WA Public Sector Case Studies Booklet. The focus of follow-up action is on assessing innovation in terms of costs and benefits, with no mention of measuring innovation capacity or performance. According to the report, Thinking outside the box…Innovation in the WA Public Sector – A report from the WA Public Sector Innovation Workshop (Nov. 2010):

The Joint Initiative Group recommends establishing a performance framework that enables innovation initiatives to be reviewed and assessed (in some circumstances independently) on an ongoing basis. A performance framework would not just consider the costs and benefits of any initiative but also how improvements and wider benefits (e.g. through bringing initiative to scale) could be achieved.9

Queensland's first State of the Service Report was produced in 2010. The Report provided the results of an online survey emailed to 130 000 staff employed under the Public Service Act 2008 and attracted a 30 percent response rate. The survey was designed to gather views on job satisfaction, attraction and retention, learning and development, and leadership. The next survey will be conducted in 2012 and will be broadened to include employees in health, policing and emergency services.

4. Local government

In local government, the emphasis has been on developing an innovative culture rather than on measuring it. Case studies have focused on the factors contributing to an innovative culture10.

A new online Local Government Innovation and Knowledge Exchange Network ( is to be launched in mid-2011 by the Australian Centre of Excellence for Local Government (ACELG) at the University of Technology, Sydney. The Network will aim to provide a multimedia interactive forum for practitioners and other professionals associated with local government to exchange information and ideas, showcase and encourage innovation and better practice, and provide links to resources, research opportunities, collaboration and support. A Local Government Innovation Better Practice Guide is also being developed as a collaborative project between ACELG and the Australia-New Zealand School of Government’s Institute for Governance at the University of Canberra.

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