How might we...
unlock self-sustaining innovation capacity in the Australian Public Service?

When many of us hear the word innovation, we think of it as a buzzword that applies only to a few elite geniuses who work out of garages or in round buildings in Silicon Valley. 

That’s what the Australian government originally thought — and that’s why they avoided calling anything innovative at all costs. But there was a special team that had an inkling that it didn’t have to be this way—and brought us on to explore a more everyday approach we call ‘Innovation-ish.’

Our client wanted to change the way the Australian Government approached innovation and make a self-sustaining, resilient system for Innovation-ish to take root. That’s why we had a multi-day “train the trainer” session with select APS staff before the start of the workshops. The training focused on the pedagogy and learning science underpinning our instructional approach. Our intention was to create a team that could upskill others within the Australian Government in creative problem solving and taking action.

How We Did It 

We didn’t just give the government an off-the-shelf curriculum. Participants were able to use the tools to make real progress on real problems they were actively working on already, and our clients’ team became part of the coaching team. By the final workshop, their coaches were fully empowered to lead and facilitate on their own.

To get people in the right mindset, we used an approach based in learning science called “explore before explain.” We throw participants into a challenge — sometimes unrelated to their domain expertise — to help them explore key themes and understandings. We then explained what they did and why to solidify learning and deepen meaning.

Alongside the Australian Government coaches, we facilitated three workshops of different lengths, varying from 14 weeks to 8 weeks to 2 days. Participants learned the Innovation-ish framework in each and practiced applying it to real departmental challenges such as, “how might we better facilitate or improve investment for development outcomes (SDGs), from Australia into South-East Asia and the Pacific?” 

The results
Learning to navigate ambiguity.

The project turned the idea of innovation on its head and took a bottom-up, grassroots approach to create an innovation-ish culture that anyone can access. In the process, participants learned to get comfortable — and, believe it or not, even thrive — in ambiguity.  We saw them go from slight skeptics to raving fans of ‘innovation-ish.’ Getting comfortable with ambiguity gave them permission to engage with the mindsets and tools more effectively.

Now, dozens of people across the Australian Public Service are ‘innovation ambassadors,’ competent at teaching innovation and applying it to all kinds of challenges. They are equipped to catalyze innovation across the organization. Participants have been successful at integrating innovation into their work too. Being a part of the course allowed them to build ties with their coworkers, become more invested in their work, and realize their own potential to innovate in life and at work.

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