Is the UK beating the US at innovation in central government?
Is innovation in central government on the up or going down? There appear to be contradictory results from the US and the UK when you look at the latest survey data on innovation in central government, despite the two countries facing similar challenges in similar economic contexts. And it looks like the UK is winning!
In the UK, the latest results from the Civil Service People Survey (CSPS) show that scores relating to innovation are strong and improving. The Civil Service Reform Plan emphasises that civil servants should be encouraged to innovate and to challenge the status quo. Four questions in the survey help monitor whether a culture of innovation is being fostered:
1. My manager is open to my ideas
2. The people in my team work together to improve the service we provide
3. The people in my team are encouraged to come up with new and better ways of doing things
4. I believe I would be supported if I tried a new idea, even if it may not work (a question added for the first time in the 2012 survey)
Analysis by the Cabinet Office team who run the survey showed that of the three measures included since 2009, the benchmark score for the first two questions has been high and relatively stable, at around 80 per cent. The benchmark for staff feeling their team are encouraged to come up with new and better ways of doing things has increased from 68 per cent in 2009 to 73 per cent in 2013.
The new question designed to get at whether civil servants are encouraged to take risks by trying ideas that may not work, saw an increase in its benchmark score of 4 percentage points from 63 per cent in 2012 to 67 per cent in 2013. It’s a picture with clear room for improvement but the trend-lines are going in the right direction and it’s not a bad place to start from.
Meanwhile, in the US, analysis of the 2013 Office of Personnel Management’s (OPM) Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey data by the Partnership for Public Service shows that whilst nine in ten Federal employees agree that ‘I am constantly looking for ways to do my job better’ (a score that has stayed fairly stable – from 91.4 per cent in 2010 to 90 per cent in 2013), only just over half actually feel encouraged to do so.
The US question ‘I feel encouraged to come up with new and better way of doing things’ shows a fall of 5 percentage points between from 59.6 per cent in 2010 to 54.7 per cent in 2013, compared to a UK rise of 3 percentage points in a similar period.
More worryingly still, only a third of Federal employees feel that ‘Creativity and innovation are rewarded’ and this has actually has dropped from 39 per cent to 33.4 per cent between 2010 and 2013.
What accounts for the difference between central government in the US and the UK? Does this mean Obama efforts to put innovation at the heart of government have not yet filtered to frontline staff in the way employees are motivated and supported? Answers on a postcard please to [email protected].
Note: the UK 2013 Civil Service People survey was completed by 270,793 people in 98 organisations. The US 2013 Federal Employee Viewpoint survey was completed by 376,500 employees in over 80 agencies.