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09.08.2010: Should Intrapreneurship Be Recognized Within the Government?
The term 'intrapreneur' is not a novelty in the business world. It's been around for 25 years and is defined by the American Heritage Dictionary as "a person within a large corporation who takes direct responsibility for turning an idea into a profitable finished product through assertive risk taking and innovation". The idea is gaining a lot of traction these days in the corporate world, with companies like Google and 3M allowing their employees to spend up to 20% of their time incubating their own side ideas. In government however, spending time on rethinking a process or product while working around bureaucracy is a notion that is typically frowned upon.
Governmental bureaucratic structures typically enforce compliance with rules and procedures and can kill new ideas because innovation often requires challenging the status quo or questioning long-held assumptions that may have worked well in the past. Furthermore, cultivating innovation is an evolutionary process and cannot be done overnight. Trial and error, experimentation without taking on undue risk, and adaptation to change should be concepts in the arsenal of every PS employee especially given the government's newly adopted PS renewal mantra. In this day and age, intrapreneurship seems to be the only cost-effective way governments can quickly replicate successful internal and external innovations, by adapting them to local contexts instead of always trying to reinvent the wheel.
Has It Been Done Before?Intrapreneurship within the government is also not a new concept. Separate innovation units that are kept close to mainstream activities but away from line organizations have always allowed for relatively low-risk experimentation. As an example, New York's Center for Technology in Government (CTG), allows state and federal government agencies as well as academia to experiment with technology-based products and processes before making large-scale investments. Don't you wish we had something like that in Ottawa? The GoC is now focusing on 'internal consulting' breaking away from the expensive financial models associated with hiring external firms. And while this move comes with significant cost savings, this also inhibits innovation as the same government employees are taking on similar projects and therefore will eventually align themselves with the ideas and technologies they are most familiar with.
Innovation RoadmapA few years ago, the Government of Canada introduced a rewards program for employees who bring up feasible cost cutting ideas (nb. many thanks to @SteveBuell who clarified the timeline for the PS award for me). But the prototypical process of innovation contains four distinct phases: idea generation, selection, conversion and diffusion. Just like it is the case with most governments, the GoC rewards program only addresses the first phase of the innovation process: idea generation. To become adept at fostering an innovative community, the GoC should create a clear (and if possible public) roadmap for converting ideas from intrapreneurs into effective solutions that have a chance to earn the support of internal (and possibly external) stakehoders.
Going ForwardAs it standands, the GoC has no shortage of intrapreneurs. As I mentioned in previous posts, the User Experience Working Group (#uxwg, @uxgc) is a semi-formal gathering of UX-related professionals who are trying to innovate when it comes to public sector user experience matters. They are the idea generators, selectors, converters and diffusers of UX ideas within the Public Service. But when it comes to the whole of the government, they are just one of the small factions who don't have the ability to follow a formal internal innovation process. Rather than adopting a modus operandi of "it's easier to beg for forgiveness than ask for permission" basis (as the #w2p folks have been doing for the past little while), isn't it time for intrapreneurship to be recognized and formalized as a process withing GoC? Tags: community, marketplace, ottawa, thoughts
Great point about harvesting new ideas vs incubating and implementing them. The GoC is finally listening to its employees, yet historically, we've always been terrible at taking those ideas to full-scale implementations. Maybe you should expand this material and make it into a larger presentation, the subject matter is certainly relevant to PS employees.
Great post. As an active member of the #uxwg and #w2p communities it's appreciated that you recognize those two groups in particular when speaking about intrapraneurship.
Both groups were born from a desire to connect with others and improve government work and/or products and are now, interestingly enough becoming more formal, if not recognized, in nature.
Progress can be made and the intrapreneurial spirit is a proven agent. Recognized or not, it's vital.
Hi Martha. My view is that the reason why intrapreneurship should be recognized is because it will draw visibility onto itself, it will get more people involved and it will inevitably bring progress at a faster pace. I'm gonna go out on limb and say that the #w2p community is still small, and it revolves around social media. There are many other ways to be an intrapreneur (and I'm sure there are many others in GoC who fit the description). A formal framework would allow them to plan time for being active in the space they want to explore, connect with like-minded individuals, and be recognized for it.
I 100% agree. Of note, however, groups are not likely to become formalized until such time as their value is first established.
The #w2p community is growing by leaps and bounds on a regular basis thanks to new efforts such as the #w2p bootcamps. Attendance in those sessions has been outstanding and many, if not most are new faces.
Like start-ups, intrapreneurship in government takes energy and commitment (much of which is given off hours) before the return on the investment is noted. Is it widespread government recognition that's needed? I don't think so. Make no mistake about it, the efforts and value of groups such as the #w2p and #uxwg are noticed, appreciated and being recognized by those who can champion the efforts and spread the good word.
Always great discussions on your blog - thanks!!
Hi Martha. Typically, the formalization of the innovation process is viewed as competitive advantage in today's business world because of the awareness (that's a much better word than 'recognition) that comes with it internally and externally. Do I think widespread government awareness is needed? If the purpose is to transform the way the GoC works and is perceived, then I would lean towards an affirmative answer. My only point was that groups such as the #w2p and #uxwg are still an elite minority. I also don't think that intrapreneurship would be formalized overnight, I was simply thinking of where all these innovation streams could potentially converge...
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