Thursday 4 August 2016

Shining a light on innovation…

Everyone is talking about innovation - the Commonwealth Government wants us to be an 'innovation nation' and entrepreneurs like Elon Musk and Steve Jobs are the rock stars of our era.  Innovation is often associated with technology, investment banking and start ups.  Like all stereotypes, it tells only part of the story.  Some of the most interesting innovation is happening in our backyard - the Victorian public sector.

In addition to encouraging innovation in the private sector, the Victorian Government is encouraging the public sector to consider how we can perform our functions and deliver public services better. What is better depends on what you are trying to achieve - it might mean 'better', in the sense that a citizen gets the public service they need more quickly and easily; it might mean 'better', in the sense of more efficient use of public money; or maybe it means 'better' in the sense of a new function being performed that was previously thought to be impossible or outside of the capacity of the public sector.

The Victorian Government is supporting the public sector to act on their innovative ideas through:

  • The Public Sector Innovation Fund provides funding support for pilot projects that test or prove new knowledge, technologies, processes or practices to deliver public value and that can be scaled or replicated across government.  Grants of $50,000 to $400,000 are available.
  • At the Australian Information Industry Association iAwards, the Premier will award the inaugural iAward for Public Sector Innovation.The winner will be revealed on 1 September 2016.

Examples of projects already funded by the Public Sector Innovation Fund include:

  • Code for Victoria Challenge, in which three teams of Code for Australia Fellows will be placed within government departments for six months . The Fellows will create new tools or streamline processes that will make government information more open and accessible online, and improve the delivery of government services.   The first round of the Code for Victoria Innovation Challenge recipients have just been announced this week
  • The 2016 Budget Hack brought together the public sector, the tech community and industry leaders to find new and better ways to visualise, use and leverage data from the State Budget.  The winning entry, Bling My Suburbs, allows users to search budget information by suburb.  The other entries in the top three included Budget Pie, which allows a user to see how much funding was allocated to the issues affecting them (I.e. How much of the pie do my issues get?!), and Ask Budget, which uses a word cloud to identify how frequently an issue was mentioned and then summarises the mentions.
Many of the innovations are not complicated and nor did they require a Steve Jobs to think of them. Many of the examples of public sector innovation start with an idea or feedback from a citizen.  For example:

  • Service Victoria is creating a 'one stop shop' for citizens looking for government information.  I tried it out on my sister, who is moving house this weekend. Through some simple questions asked of the website over dinner, my sister found the right places to change her driver's licence, find out who her new council and MPs are, when her hard rubbish collection is and how much her rates will be.  Service Victoria received additional funding in the recent State Budget, which will enable them to implement its objective of digitising more government transactions. 
  • EPA AirWatch provides visual information on air quality on an hourly basis.  Using a Google map, the user can see the status of air quality at a monitoring station (Very Good, Good, Poor, etc) and then see a more detailed break down of the readings, including a health category.
  • The online family violence intervention application form [] allows people to apply for intervention orders online, rather than by submitting a paper form.  The online format allows high risk cases to be flagged and brought to the attention of a magistrate earlier.  The form has been piloted at the Neighbourhood Justice Centre and, with a grant from the Public Sector Innovation Fund, will now be rolled out to the Magistrates' Court.
Innovation is also happening in government legal services.

  • Government departments are exploring ways in which government can benefit from 'the new legal paradigm', in which technology and new business models are reducing legal costs and communication styles are changing.  Some departments have started the conversation with panel law firms.
  • VGSO has appointed its first Innovation Counsel who has challenged and evangelised our lawyers to explore with government agencies how legal services can be delivered in ways that better meet the needs of government.

Everyone is talking innovation - and the Victorian public sector is doing innovation.  How is your agency innovating?  What do you think the public sector could do differently or better?  Tell us your thoughts in the comments.

To find out more please contact:

Katie Miller
Innovation Counsel

Andrew Suddick
General Counsel

Joanne Kummrow
Special Counsel