Making innovation routine: creating more inventive civil services

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September 7, 2021

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To meet the public’s needs, civil services need to innovate – adapting to emerging threats and finding new ways to tackle old problems. But leaders acting on this agenda face major cultural and structural obstacles. Civil service processes designed to minimise risk and protect value for money can stifle experimentation. Hierarchical, organisational and professional boundaries hamper collaboration and the flow of ideas. Political and media pressures tend to reward the cautious over the adventurous.

To become more innovative, civil services must act on many fronts. Recruitment and promotion, for example, can be reformed to reward intelligent risk-taking. ‘Sandboxes’ and hackathons can provide safe spaces for experimentation. New communications platforms can gather in ideas from specialist and frontline staff. Government-wide assurance processes can be streamlined and made more flexible. At this webinar, civil service leaders and external experts discussed how civil service leaders can make full use of their workforce’s expertise and enthusiasm – creating more responsive and inventive organisations.


Susan Acland-Hood, Permanent Secretary, Department for Education, United Kingdom

Susan Acland-Hood has been the Permanent Secretary at the Department for Education (DfE) since September 2020. Prior to taking on the role at DfE, Susan was Chief Executive of Her Majesty’s Courts & Tribunals Service. From 2015 to 2016 she was Director of Enterprise and Growth at HM Treasury, responsible for policies on growth, energy, the environment, business, infrastructure, exports, competition and markets. She was Director of the Education and Funding Group at DfE from 2013 to 2015, and before that held a range of posts covering education and justice policy, including in the Prime Minister’s Office in No.10, the Home Office, the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, and the Social Exclusion Unit. Her civil service career began in the then Department for Education and Employment in 1999. Susan has both a BA and MPhil from the University of Cambridge in Intellectual History and the History of Political Thought.

Dr Vik Pant, Chief Scientist and Chief Science Advisor, Natural Resources Canada

Vik is responsible for providing strategic direction to build capacity within NRCan’s scientific community, promoting a departmental vision for S&T and assessment of future needs. This involves leadership in developing and advancing S&T priorities, providing strategic policy advice on horizontal science issues and opportunities to ensure strong linkages between science and policy communities, and promoting effective engagement of S&T activities. Vik is responsible for accelerating the creative application of innovative digital technologies including Artificial Intelligence, to enhance NRCan’s ability to conduct research and analysis, as well as provide evidence-based policy advice that is supported by advanced analytical techniques. Vik works with counterparts from other science-based organizations to ensure that the management of federal policy and research activities support and align with Government of Canada priorities.

Vik earned a doctorate from the Faculty of Information (iSchool) in the University of Toronto, a master’s degree in business administration with distinction from the University of London, and a master’s degree in information technology from Harvard University, where he received the Dean’s List Academic Achievement Award. His research, featured in numerous peer-reviewed journals and refereed international conferences, focuses on the conceptual modelling of strategic coopetition in complex multi-agent systems.

Vik joined NRCan from the MaRS Discovery District, a technology start-up accelerator in Toronto, where he was a Senior Technical Advisor of Applied Artificial Intelligence. Prior to that, he held progressively strategic positions in leading software enterprises including Oracle, SAP and Open Text.

Vesa Lipponen, Chief Information Officer, Ministry of Finance, Finland

Vesa Lipponen is CIO of the Ministry of Finance in Finland. He has worked in the Ministry of Finance from 2017 on development projects and finance. Vesa has experience also from the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment and its offices.

His work history covers strategy, development and financing in the field of digitalization of government services. He has several years of experience of Cross-departmental development. He has worked ubiquitous even before the large-scale remote working during the pandemic. And is genuinely excited about the bigger picture and the vision of public services.

“Digitalization is a key factor when it comes to creating customer-centred public services. And the same can be said about the government’s own staff and processes. We had the tools before 2020, but we did not utilize them nearly enough. Now we have made some real progress both at a strategic level and in practice.”

Oliver McKenna, Chief Technology Officer EMEA, Workday

Oliver McKenna was appointed CTO for EMEA at Workday in May 2019. Oliver joined Workday from Unum – the leading Insurer and Benefits provider – where he was Chief Architect and led teams to radically transform how new products were brought to market. This totally revamped the customer experience, helping create a 22% sales growth year on year.

Before Unum Oliver enjoyed a successful career in Fidelity Investments for 18 years spanning three different roles. His most recent role was CIO for HR Access – a leading vendor in the HR and Payroll industry. There Oliver was responsible for product management and development and helped generate a 400% increase in revenues and sales over 4 years.
Prior HR Access, Oliver set up a new software company called TerraNua, which created cloud solutions for Payroll and Compliance. Today TerraNua – now branded MyComplianceOffice (MCO) – provides a compliance solution to over 600 of the world’s premier stock-trading organisations and is #1 in this market.

Oliver began his career in Bank of Ireland in Dublin before moving to the beautiful city of Edinburgh where he worked as Technology Manager for Standard Life for eight years.
Oliver has a BSc in Computer Science from the University of Ulster and is an alumni of the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. He is married to Eleanor with three grown-up children – and has a dog called Misty.

Webinar chair: Siobhan Benita, former UK senior civil servant

Siobhan Benita was a senior civil servant with over 15 years’ Whitehall experience. She worked in many of the major delivery departments, including Transport, Environment, Health and Local Government. She also had senior roles at the heart of Government in the Cabinet Office and HM Treasury, including supporting the then Cabinet Secretary, Lord O’Donnell to lead work on Civil Service reform and strategy. Siobhan left the Civil Service to run as an independent candidate in the Mayor of London election. She subsequently joined her alma mater, Warwick University as Chief Strategy Officer of Warwick in London and Co-Director of the Warwick Policy Lab.