What is true public sector innovation?

The public sector faces a multitude of pressures, not least the financial challenge of shrinking budgets and increased expectations of service users. The drive to do more for less has put the onus on public sector organisations to innovate. Meanwhile, the Brexit referendum calls for the creation of whole new legal and regulatory frameworks for the UK. If these aren’t ‘digital-first’, organisations they are merely re-creating models and modes from bygone eras.


For organisations to successfully transform, they need to look beyond the technology they buy and realise this is just one part of the problem. The focus needs to be on organisational design and changing behaviours so these organisations are able to make users’ needs the top priority. Rather than investing heavily in traditional approaches to managing projects, senior leaders need to show vision and help their teams align behind common goals.

When transformation succeeds, it has the support of senior leadership combined with empowered teams delivering outcomes. A common vision needs to be shared throughout the organisation and senior leaders need to trust their teams to achieve it.

“ It’s no longer acceptable for senior managers to wear their ignorance of technology as a badge of honour”. Dave Mann, Head of Strategy  -  dxw

So how can organisations innovate?

Digital innovation should be  the combination of empathy, technology and creativity. At dxw, use technology, user insight and agile principles to help public sector teams deliver services that are radically and recognisably better.

  • Making services for the end user

To ensure that a service is meeting the needs of the user, a supplier should be working with clients to form a single, empowered team that owns the outcomes of the work. One of the ways you can do this is by working in the open, so you not only get the buy-in needed  from the organisation but you create excitement and momentum in the work.

User research should be the focus of each project to ensure the needs are taken into consideration and  to also make  sure the organisation is building the right thing. Throughout projects, have regular user research playback sessions to ensure the whole team is involved in understanding user needs, and see how users are engaging  with a service.

  • Collaboration

Inflexible, bureaucratic organisations can often block ideas which are one of the foundations of true innovation.

Organisations must learn the  importance of everyone’s voice being heard and reflect this way of working when working with clients.

We have found that by creating a single team and working on site with them, allows us to fully understand the context the team is operating in.

By building relationships like these, means you can help clients build their own capability to operate services in the future.

  • Be Agile and experiment

We think that the Agile Manifesto contains a lot of wisdom, but we don’t follow the industry of methodologies, training and certifications that has grown up around it. We think agile is something you learn to be, not something that you learn to do.

Our teams frequently experiment with different tools and techniques so we can continuously improve. This applies not only to development work, but to everything we do at dxw, from user research to business operations.

We recognise the importance of planning, compliance and governance, so we work those activities into the process, every step of the way.

  • Measure your achievements

When organisations are testing out new methods and ideas, it’s important that they be measured so everyone knows what’s working - and equally importantly, what’s not.  At the end of every sprint, a delivery lead facilitates a retrospective where the team discuss how the sprint went. We talk about what went well, what didn't, and what we can do to to improve how we work for the next sprint. These sessions are attended by all the people involved in delivering the project along with the client team. We use retros to make sure we acknowledge and continue to do the things that are working well and also commit to change anything that can be improved.

Our goal at dxw digital is to help public sector teams research, build, deliver and operate great digital services, based on user needs. We want the user experience to be straightforward, positive and seamless. We believe that by building those services using agile principles, we can help our clients embed those same principles in other parts of their organisations.

Dave Mann, MD dxw digital:
“What’s radical is not using the latest digital technologies or fashions like building apps. Leaders who are willing to trust their teams can transform their organisations by focusing on goals, outcomes and changing behaviours rather than deliverables and targets. These leaders are the true radicals of innovation.”

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