Went to a talk by the director of Design London at the business school. Nick Leon told us about some really interesting things happening there – they’ve clearly got a creative and talented bunch of people. However I didn’t find him convincing when talking about the public sector. He didn’t have much to say about the adoption of innovation which I think is the key issue. I almost think that the design bit, though crucial and requiring talent, is the easy bit. Making it happen is much more difficult – witness the NHS IT project saga. Innovation adoption is a much harder outside commercial contexts. He also said little about the incentives for new design innovation and incentives for adoption.
First of all in the private sector you have well acknowledged product lifecycles, starting with innovators, then early adopters etc. In the public sector you are often talking about essential services so you need to think about things differently – you can’t simply let the market work. Sometimes there are ethical restrictions about what innovation you implement (e.g. if it is not well evidenced) and piloting new ideas in the public sector is often politically influenced. I’m an advocate of wholesale restructuring of the public sector to enable better innovation, perhaps using market principles, but it ain’t there yet.
Secondly you can’t just tell your employees what to do. I understand that private sector workers resist change like anywhere else but fundamentally they do not (usually) own the business and defer to the managers and owners to set direction. In the public sector it’s different. Strong stakeholder groups (e.g. doctors, nurses, policemen) have a massive sense of ownership, huge clout and often much more public support than the managers themselves. Arguably doctors, with their comepting interests scuppered the NHS IT programme through disengagement and criticism.
So great ideas and brilliantly designed services are one thing – making them happen is much more difficult.