Innovation 2019 kicks off with five key lessons on policymaking

By on 28/02/2019
From left Andrea Siodmok, Paul Maltby, Dr Andrea Schneider

At the first session of the Innovation 2019 conference on Thursday, civil service leaders from three countries identified five key changes that they believe could boost innovation in policy making.

Innovation 2019 – which was hosted by Global Government Forum, in collaboration with the UK’s Cabinet Office – attracted over 500 delegates from 39 countries to Westminster’s Central Hall. And following panellists’ presentations in the first session, chair Matt Ross asked them to name a single change that they’d like to see.

For Paul Maltby, chief digital officer at the UK’s Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government, the key lies in the creation of “multi-disciplinary teams”.

“Policy and delivery have been two separate worlds, sometimes,” he said. “The arrival of digital teams brings another dimension to that.” He described the “huge opportunity” of people with different skills working more closely together.

Canadian and German perspectives

Matthew Mendelsohn, Canada’s deputy secretary to the Cabinet for results and delivery in the Privy Council Office, stressed the importance of creating feedback channels running from the frontline of public service delivery and “cascading through” to policymakers – carrying messages about what works, what doesn’t, and how new policies are bedding in. “This requires a real diversity of voices,” he said.

Dr Andrea Schneider, head of the Directorate of Innovation and Policy Planning in Germany’s Federal Chancellery, called for the creation of “infrastructure” to allow those working on innovative policies to share their experiences. Supporting Mendelsohn’s point, she emphasised the importance of policy makers learning about “what actually happens when a service reaches a citizen.”

Matthew Vickerstaff, interim chief executive of the UK’s Infrastructure and Projects Authority & Matthew Mendelsohn, Canada’s deputy secretary to the Cabinet for results and delivery in the Privy Council Office

For Matthew Vickerstaff, interim chief executive of the UK’s Infrastructure and Projects Authority, the key point is to embed innovative projects in the real world of delivery – ensuring that managers and staff have the skills and processes to realise their goals. Noting that the UK will shortly go through its five-yearly Comprehensive Spending Review budgeting process, he said: “The one thing we need to embed into the evaluation of policies and innovative ideas is ‘deliverability’. Perhaps in the past we have had problems around ‘optimism bias’, and it really is important to embed that deliverability aspect into that once-every-five-years reset.”

Constraints force innovation

Finally Andrea Siodmok, deputy director of the UK’s Policy Lab, argued that limitations on people’s freedom of manoeuvre can sometimes produce the most innovative policies. If people can spend as much as they like, for example, why bother innovate? So “carefully considered constraints” can be important in prompting people to find new solutions.

Innovation 2019 was opened and closed by John Manzoni, chief executive of the UK civil service, and saw a keynote by Government Digital Service chief Kevin Cunnington and panel sessions covering policy making, procurement, process automation, data, workspaces, and service design.

Global Government Forum will be running reports on many of the key events over the coming days.

About Ian Hall

Ian Hall is a former Editor of Public Affairs News, who has most recently worked as UK Director for the pan-European media network Euractiv. He is also a former News Editor of PR Week. He began his career in Bulgaria at English-language weekly the Sofia Echo.

One Comment

  1. Jag Patel

    01/03/2019 at

    Who says austerity doesn’t force through changes in public sector working practices?

    One of the main reasons given for the deep cuts in public spending enacted by the incoming coalition government in 2010 was to facilitate a fundamental redesign of internal business processes used by civil servants to deliver public services – in other words, get more for less.

    Against all expectations, the Ministry of Defence which is considered by many to be the most change resistant and least efficient department in Whitehall has achieved exactly that. Specifically, MoD has completely refashioned the way it goes about procuring equipment for the Armed Forces by introducing the ingenious idea of requiring input of private sector investment capital into defence procurement programmes, to replace taxpayer funds and so, lessen the burden on the public purse.

    In its latest policy statement on defence procurement expressed in the Defence Industrial Policy published in December 2017, the Government says (on page 32):

    “We want to encourage more private venture capital into the defence sector, including from non-traditional defence suppliers. Co-investment (where both industry and Government jointly invest) is commonplace in the civil aerospace and automotive sectors, and we want to see more of this in defence”.

    Government policy documents are, almost always, framed in language which is deliberately ambiguous in meaning (to sow confusion and conceal real intent, as seen on evolving Brexit positions), leaving them open to multiple interpretations – indeed, as many times as there are readers. However, on this occasion, the message behind the words cannot be clearer.

    After decades of propping up the defence industry with unquestioning support, the Government is realistic in its aims and recognises that the private sector will not willingly put forward or risk its own money. Nevertheless, it has come to the conclusion that industry’s appetite for self-funding will only be boosted when the market-based instrument of competition is applied more rigorously.

    Defence procurement officials are famous for sticking to tried-and-failed practices of the past, which is why the Secretary of State for Defence has taken to invoking the oft quoted saying “If you always do what you always did, you will always get what you always got” in relation to the behavioural change he is expecting in people directly underneath him at MoD.

    To this end, it would be a mistake for MoD to underestimate the formidable resistance that will be put up by defence contractors, or resort to the failed approach of gentle persuasion and talking, to try to convince them to stake their own money. Nor will the presently applied ‘sudden death’ competition (which abruptly reduces the field of bidders from six to one, thereby removing the incentive for the single Contractor to perform) cut it anymore.

    Instead, the Government should select the winning Contractor from a choice of industry teams, by running a multiple-phase winner-takes-all competition (see this illustration pic.twitter.com/RUToAZ6thx) on the basis of a level playing field genuinely open to all-comers, including non-domiciled suppliers, with the rules of the contest declared at the outset – and combine it with use of Government’s considerable power of coercion, exercised judiciously.

    Accordingly, each Bidder should be invited to declare that part of the bottom-line Selling Price for the overall programme which is to be paid for, from his own (or third party) funds to advance the developmental status of his starting-point for the Technical Solution – as a separate line item on DEFFORM 47, to enable Abbey Wood Team Leader to make a like-for-like comparison. The more money bidders put in, the less MoD will have to contribute, and the lower the risk that the Team Leader will be censured for exceeding the sanctioned budget. See this illustration pic.twitter.com/UIZFTSayqq on how it works.

    Normal commercial pressures and market forces inherent within the context of a multiple-phase winner-takes-all competition will, in themselves, compel defence contractors to take a business decision to voluntarily make a contribution from their own funds – not, because the Government says so, as some people in the pay of the State with inflated egos seem to think, but because of the omnipresent threat from the Competition! It will not even require expenditure of procurement officials’ time, in trying to persuade bidders to put forward their own money – saving MoD an enormous amount in overhead costs.

    Such a feat has not been achieved on any previous equipment acquisition programme for the UK’s Armed Forces, not least, because no one (including the Secretary of State for Defence) has being able to provide convincing evidence of any private sector capital invested – instead, this issue has been dominated by lies, disinformation and spin.

    Another beneficial side-effect of getting bidders to put in their own money is that they will be inclined to take greater responsibility for the way they go about designing, developing, integrating, prototyping, manufacturing and supporting their equipment, instead of constantly plotting to contrive situations which will entice acquisition officials into partaking in detailed design decisions relating to the evolving Technical Solution – as has been the case hitherto, on equipment acquisition programmes wholly funded by MoD.

    In staking their own funds, bidders implicitly acknowledge and accept a proportionate share of programme risks, so relieving the strain on public finances and with it, ensuring that MoD gets more for its money than it would otherwise do. Additionally, the long-standing practice of bidders concealing technical risks from MoD will cease immediately.

    An added benefit to be derived from compelling bidders to borrow funds from third parties such as Finance Houses or private equity partners to pay for the cost of developing their Technical Solutions is that, the monitoring and scrutinising function will be automatically transferred from MoD to the lending institutions, who are likely to be much more rigorous and demanding regarding day-to-day performance than disengaged, here-today-gone-tomorrow procurement officials – yet another good reason why the headcount at MoD’s arms-length defence procurement organisation at Abbey Wood, Bristol should be cut even further!

    It is one thing for elite politicians to make ambitious statements in glossy documents for public consumption, and quite another to get front-line procurement officials to implement this policy so that it delivers the outputs, as promised. The acid test will be the actual figure in pounds sterling quoted by bidders on DEFFORM 47 – any number greater than zero will be clear indication that effective implementation of this policy is under way. The legislative branch has a role to play here. To enable Parliament to hold the Government to account and scrutinise the ongoing effectiveness of this policy, it should insist that data on private sector investment capital committed during each phase of equipment procurement programmes be made available, on a regular basis.

    The ultimate aim is to gradually cut the Government’s contribution of funds down to zero, commensurate with achievement of levels of competitiveness in the Defence Industry comparable with that exhibited by world-beating, export-orientated, advanced technology non-defence companies in the UK – which happen to pose a nil cost burden upon the taxpayer.

    Potentially, the public purse could benefit from £15 billion a year in the long term if this policy of eliciting private sector capital investment is implemented aggressively.

    After all, it is called the Private Sector for a reason – so that it can use Private Sector funds, not Public Sector subsidy to innovate, grow, create jobs and make a profit.
    @JagPatel3

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