UK civil service "leads US on innovation", says think tank

Institute for Government analysis of People Survey data shows "strong and improving" trajectory for fostering an ideas culture

By Jim Dunton

07 Jan 2016

Innovation culture is "strong and improving" within the civil service in a way that outshines its US counterpart, according to a just-published crunch of People Survey data by think tank the Institute for Government (IfG).

The IfG research brings together data from 2009-2015 focusing on four current People Survey questions designed to assess whether staff believe they are part of an ideas culture committed to improvement, and the extent to which they are supported in this.

Perspectives on managers’ openness to new ideas and team-level commitment to improve new services have remained relatively stable since 2009, with around 80% of respondents expressing positive sentiments about their situation.

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However, the IfG said its analysis of the data showed increasing levels of respondents felt that they and their colleagues worked in an environment where they were “encouraged to come up with new and better ways of doing things”. It said the proportion of staff who agreed with the sentiment had risen from 68% in 2009 to 74% in 2015.

A fourth innovation question – asked for the first time in 2012 – seeks to test whether staff feel supported to innovate, even if their ideas may not work. The proportion of people agreeing with the sentiment has risen from 63% to 68% over the four surveys in which it has been asked.

IfG report authors Jo Casebourne and Ollie Hirst said that the improving picture of innovation within the UK civil service was in contrast with the US counterparts, where the innovation picture was seen as having broadly deteriorated since 2010.

They said that while 91% of federal employees reported they were constantly looking for ways to do their jobs better, just 57% felt encouraged to come up with new and better ways of doing their jobs, while only 37% felt they worked in an environment where creativity and innovation were rewarded.

Casebourne, programme director at IfG, said its analysis of People Survey and US 2015 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey data was positive news for Whitehall, it masked big differences between departments.

“It’s a picture with room for improvement but the trend lines are clearly going in the right direction,” she said.

“The Treasury tops the chart for managers’ openness to new ideas with DWP, MoD and HMRC doing less well.

“It’s notable that the policy departments tend to score more highly than those with a large operational delivery function. However, DWP and HMRC have seen improvement since 2009. There are also differences when it comes to working together to improve services.”

Casebourne and Hirst’s full analysis can be read here, and CSW's own, in-depth analysis of the People Survey's findings on staff morale is available here.

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