“We have to overcome this sense that creativity and innovation is the preserve of a few, that it’s a gift that only a few have; it’s simply not true,” says US management thinker Gary Hamel.
Hamel laments that business leaders often treat innovation as a special talent to be entrusted to a select elite, with the result that their organisations miss out on the “creativity and capability” that each employee brings to work every day. He describes it as “a kind of creative apartheid”.
“Human beings were born to create, we can’t help but create. So the challenge is to train [all employees] to think like innovators, to give them the chance to experiment and try new things and really take advantage of their creative capital.”
Victoria’s Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) couldn’t agree more.
It recently embarked on a “Think Shake” innovation challenge in which DELWP’s 3200 employees were asked: “What can we do to improve what we do or how we do it as a department?” – the question generated 230 ideas. The next task was to identify which were best suited to a technology-based solution. The responses were narrowed to 50 “potentially digitally-enabled ideas”.
A workshop comprising DELWP’s innovation team and mobile technology specialists from Tigerspike and Telstra decided on five ideas to be “brought to life” as mobile apps.
An intensive two-day “Hackathon” held at Telstra’s Gurrowa Innovation Labs in Melbourne – attended by software developers, programmers, mobile app specialists and five teams comprising “idea authors” and subject-matter experts from DELWP – was charged with fast-tracking five app prototypes.
DELWP project coordinator Geoffrey Caine was involved in the creation of an app that streamlines Crown land information that is currently paper-based and often spread across several agencies into a single digital hub.
Depending on the query or proposal – camping permission, an application to build a surf club, hosting a wedding on a particular site or enquiring about purchasing land – DELWP employees might find themselves delving into boxes of documents dating back to the 1820s to establish approved usages for the Crown land. For customers, a complex query might result in having to deal with several authorities that may have an interest in the one piece of land.
The app digitises this often cumbersome process, making it easier for staff to answer questions from customers and easier for customers to access information about Crown land usage.
“It was just incredible having coders there with us who were able to take really complex problems and narrow them down based on our collective experience of working with different user groups,” Caine says of the Hackathon experience.
“They were able to build something that provides staff with the confidence that they have the factual information to make a decision, knowing that all the issues and values of the site have been considered.”
Public enquiries that might take “months” to settle or Crown land sales that can take several years to finalise and involve multiple agencies can be reduced to a simplified decision-making process.
“That’s one of the core outcomes that we were looking for: clear-cut, transparent decision-making and a better experience for the public. Happy members of the public make for happy DELWP employees,” Caine says.
Another app is for DELWP officers responsible for mapping campsites and setting up base camps for use in emergencies such as bushfires, and search and rescue missions.
Currently, base camp managers do this planning manually. Not unusually they will use paper maps for potential campsites and phone books to track down local tradespeople to construct camp infrastructure. The app will digitise the entire process and even incorporates the knowledge and experience of veteran base camp managers such as Stefan Kaiser.
“It was really exciting to participate in a process that, in the space of two days, created a digital format of the work we do,” Kaiser says.
“It’s been a wonderful opportunity to join with people who have the technological skills to download from us our knowledge, experience and ideas and build it into something that is operational and scalable.”
DELWP Senior Innovation Manager Claire Tomlinson says the mobile apps will “improve our services to customers, but also the productivity and wellbeing of our staff”.
Equally important is the underpinning message that everyone can play a role in innovation.
“Hackathon has been about uplifting the capability of our staff to innovate, unblocking the barriers to innovation and creating pathways for people to innovate,” Tomlinson says.
Tomlinson plans to implement 101 of the 230 staff ideas over the next 12 months.
“We have to overcome this sense that creativity and innovation is the preserve of a few, that it’s a gift that only a few have; it’s simply not true.”– Gary Hamel, US management expert
Claire Tomlinson: Hey everyone. We’re going to have a Hackathon. Who’s keen?”
It’s never been done before, to my knowledge, in Victorian government, so we’re the first department to do such an event. We’re also the first department to elicit the ideas of our staff through a crowd sourcing challenge.
We went out and asked all of our staff, “What can we do to improve what we do or how we do it as a department?” We had aimed to get 50 ideas through our challenge and we ended up with 230.
Ian Morland: Through the help of Telstra and the Tigerspike team, they were actually able to take all of our ideas and concepts and actually build it into something that was operational.
Geoffrey Caine: Technology is an interesting term for us because at the moment the technology that we use is pen and paper still.
I guess we never really have the opportunity to have coders in the room with service designers, and – and with the expertise in hand.
Troy Smithells: We knew we could apply our technology expertise to these ideas to really accelerate the idea and bring it to life. So that’s what excited us was being able to create these tangible outcomes that were scale across – scalable across the business and really transform the way DELWP operates internally and also facing into the public domain.
Ian Morland: Our process would have been to develop a business case for a project, create a working group around the project, spend weeks and months trying to produce something at the end of it.
Erika Lind: I was excited by it in seeing the functionality. There’s also the higher aspect of that fast track collaboration and innovation and coming up with an end-use product as opposed to a business case.
Ian Morland: We’ve gone from concept to product in the space of two days. Where historically, that would have taken months using a traditional project management model.
Claire Tomlinson: It’s really about providing them with the opportunities to innovate and creating the pathways for people to do so.
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