So, yesterday morning I was interviewed by Danish national radio about systematic innovation. What is that?
The occasion was that on March 15th, the Copenhagen-based think tank Monday Morning launched its ambitious “The Entrepreneurs of Welfare” report on how innovation happens in Danish government. More than 2400 people from government, business and the third sector (myself included) have contributed to the study, which emphasizes that what everyone wants in order to create change is ‘freedom’ and ‘responsibility’. OK…?
More interestingly, although the report shows that new welfare solutions are certainly bubbling up to the surface everywhere in Denmark’s public landscape, the depressing fact is that very few of the innovations are goundbreaking or transformative. Further, the solutions often happen randomly, carried through by a few lonely entrepreneurs and in spite of the multitude of barriers we all know characterise new thinking in government. My answer: Seems like we need more systematic and strategic innovation.
What is then systematic innovation? ‘Systematic’ is about conscious, explicit, with purpose. And ‘innovation’ is about divergence and variance. Maybe even risk. So… could we systematically, purposefully, stimulate the variance that drives innovation?
Does a homogenous welfare state like Denmark not need to strengthen the ability of institutions to experiment with their own unique models of service delivery — and arrive at what they believe is the best way of creating value to citizens? If yes, we might need to forget the ‘one size fits’ all model, and start accepting a greater divergence of delivery models. Should we encourage more privately-run day care institutions, schools and hospitals? Should we strengthen the opportunities for NGO (third sector) actors to contribute with their skills, expertise and commitment in care for handicapped or for tackling environmental challenges?
Should governments’ role be less of running the core operations of the welfare state in search of ever-higher homogeneity, but rather to encourage vastly different delivery models, only measuring them on their results? What might be required of our systems, organisations and (not least) funding if we were to accept that innovation is driven by variance, not homogeneity? Could ‘systematic’ innovation also be about government consciously encouraging and managing diversity? What might that mean to equality, and to what we define as the welfare state? And more importantly: What level of energy and passion might be released if we embraced diversity and rewarded success?