As public institutions seek to become more innovative in how they work, they generally lack baseline information about the current state of skills in the organisation.
Asking the right questions
Many governments are investing in creating new training programs in an effort to change working practices. But they are often doing so without knowing either what people know, who needs to know what, or how they want to learn. There is more than a little certain irony that, in an effort to spread the teaching of skills such as data analysis and human-centred design, public organisations are not applying those very same approaches to conduct an assessment of training needs prior to developing their training programs.
For public organisations wishing to boost their performance and improve how they solve public problems, they should first conduct a training needs analysis to measure the current state of innovative problem solving skills and the nature of any skills gaps to understand what people know, what they would like to know and how they learn best.
In 2017, the Chilean government commissioned the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) to conduct a first-of-its-kind study on the pervasiveness of innovation skills in its public workforce in order to inform its training strategy.
The OECD team conducted interviews with 90 public servants and surveyed over 150 people focusing on assessing competency in six skills:
- Design thinking
- Digital thinking
- Data and evidence use
- Curiosity and flexibility
- New narratives and cooperation
The research, while based on a small sample, enabled the consultants to follow up with in-depth interviews and later produce a 120-page report, documenting that innovation skills exist only in pockets in the Chilean public sector but without any coherent framework to bring them together or systematise them in public practice.
Respondents indicated a particular skills gap in the area of citizen engagement. They also felt that, whereas their organizations were better prepared to use data science skills, managers frequently did not support employee efforts to practice innovative ways of working. Alas, the OECD does not publish the survey questions.
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