Innovation in public services is just as important as innovation in private companies.
When civil servants and top officials in government departments, agencies and ministries are not innovative, the effect is felt not only by businesses but by everyone else in the country.
For example, if the police force became more effective, through innovation, the entire society would simply benefit. An effective and efficient police force not only makes the public feel safer, but it even makes a country more attractive to foreigners and foreign investors, and this has too many advantages as we all know.
Unfortunately innovations are not very common in our culture, especially in government, and the impact of this weakness can be very far reaching.
For example, the traffic police seem not able to stop the nearly anarchic behaviour of bus drivers on the road, which has led to many car accidents. The bus drivers regularly violate traffic light rules, almost always overspeed (especially in the evening when they are making an extra buck above what is required by the bus owner), overload the buses, and so on, putting many lives in danger every single day. The traffic police are of course right when they say they do not have enough resources to monitor them; after all, this is a poor donor-dependent nation, right? Right, but this is where innovation comes in.
Why, for example, couldn’t they try something like undercover traffic policing? These could be people who pretend to be regular bus passengers but working for the traffic police to monitor from inside the bus these dangerous behaviors of the drivers. If the bus driver goes through a red light, the officer can just produce his ID at that point and tell him that he is under arrest. If the bus is overloaded, the undercover cop could easily tell. In no time, the bus drivers will stop doing all these dangerous acts because they won’t know which passenger might be a plant from the traffic police!
This is probably not done anywhere in the world right now (as far as I am aware), but that should not prevent us from trying something new, something different. If it works well, other poor countries might copy from us; if it doesn’t work at all, we can abandon it and try something else. Our only focus must be to solve our problems in the most efficient and effective way.
An idea like undercover traffic policing does not require getting huge donor money to buy some expensive cars, gadgets, etc. It can be done today and it will have bigger results than the more expensive standard solutions that we think are the only ways of doing things.
And if other problems arise from a solution like this, the job of the managers at the traffic police department is to keep thinking of solutions to solve those new problems. For example, it might just happen that the bus drivers could start getting to know who these police officers are and thus behaving themselves when they spot one. How to solve such a problem? I don’t know. But the managers working full time on this can know the answer if they can realize that thinking is their primary job as executives, whether in the public or private sector. (Perhaps they could regularly transfer these undercover cops to different bus routes on different days, and then they could even start exchanging them among different towns, etc so that it is difficult for drivers to memorize them. Or they could focus on using reserve undercover cops, who would be more numerous in number etc … the point is that it is the job of the “bosses” in these departments to keep innovating even after innovating).
This is just one example of a very simple (almost obvious) innovation in one area of public service that could have big effects if indeed it can work (I don’t know). Innovators do not look for complex or impressive ideas, they just look for answers – for ways of becoming more efficient in delivering the desired results.