Abby Robinson on Innovation in Government

Abby Robinson is a strong believer in government innovation. In July she single-handedly organised Canberra's first Innovation Summit - on top of her regular job as a Project Manager in the Therapeutic Goods Administration. Under the theme of "Pattern Breaking", the Summit examined how organisations and individuals need to move away from outdated business practices and unproductive routines in order to be more responsive to change and to find better ways of doing things.

Abby shares her experiences about innovation below.

What led you to become interested in innovation?
I've always been interested and proactive in the space of innovation as I came from a research and industry background. I - with other colleagues - were responsible for driving our department in a very high profile British university to be the best it can be, and stay ahead of the game amongst a lot of competition for research programmes, patenting, papers, funding and collaboration.

How did you become involved with organising the Innovation Summit?
I'm the Public Sector Innovation Network Representative for the Department of Health. When the opportunity of a potential Innovation Summit was being considered, I put my hand up as it was a great opportunity to connect like-minded people within the Department of Health and other agencies.  It was also an opportunity to educate others on what innovation is within the public sector, but most importantly, to reiterate that innovation - doing things in a better way - can be fun, engaging and enjoyable.

I later found out it was the first Innovation Summit held in Canberra.

What was the highlight of the Innovation Summit for you?
There were two highlights for me. Firstly, the overwhelming interest the public sector has with innovation. We're all extremely innovative, but many of us need to be directed on how to make that real in our work environment. The second was meeting so many amazing people from different organisations who are extremely talented, and are happy to share and collaborate. People I would never have met if it wasn’t for the Summit because it was a great forum for us to network.

What projects are you currently working on that involve some sort of innovation?

Innovation is happening quietly across the Department of Health. In my Office (the Office of Scientific Evaluation) we're using lean methodology as a tool for business improvements on many levels. We're incorporating lean to support the way we do our business and assist in identifying how we do our business better.

What benefits will lean methodology have for business improvement?
Lean methodology is about value mapping your individual work processes and defining value for a specific product or service from the end-point perspective.  This is so that all the non-value activities - or waste - can be targeted for removal step by step.

The successful implementation of lean thinking could potentially lead to improvements in our customer focus, quality, productivity and agility. These are where our organisation can strive for continuous improvements.

And how accepting was your organisation of adopting lean methodology?

Our Office Head is very accepting and enthusiastic about lean thinking. Our Office is the first to implement lean methodology into the business improvement forum at TGA. We're still in the first phase of implementation, but we're hoping that the successes we have in our office will set a precedence for other offices in TGA to adopt lean as a potential tool for business improvements.

I don't believe one size fits all with any business improvement method, but many other organisations have had business improvement successes using lean. So it was obvious that we also aim to apply lean methodology and see if it works for us. It's about recognising how you can adapt lean to benefit your organisation’s business by including all the staff members involved in the everyday work process and making incremental changes.

What else is next?
My plans for innovation within the Department of Health includes a year's agenda to promote innovation on many levels within Health and some collaborative workshops.  Of course we've put our hands up again for the 2015 Innovation Month with another Summit, themed “Cross-Pollination: Sharing Ideas and Collaborating".

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