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Addressing the Need for Public Sector Innovations

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The public sector has faced difficult and unprecedented issues during the pandemic, but in turn, it has also accelerated the demand for innovation within the sector, an opportunity to bridge identified gaps and gear new products and services towards addressing these issues.

Business News Wales spoke to two representatives of PDR: Professor Andrew Walters, Director of Research and Professor of User Centred Design at PDR; and Dr. Katie Beverley, Senior Research Officer and Sustainable Innovation Lead at PDR, who is also a part-time Lecturer within the Cardiff School of Management working on the Circular Economy Innovation Communities, funded by the European Social Fund.

We explore with them why they think that innovation is so crucial within the public sector, what challenges the sector faces and the opportunities that are possible with helping public sector organisations achieve these innovations, and whether enough is being done to acknowledge and support the workforce in addressing these gaps through upskilling, ensuring that these innovations become a reality.

PDR is a design and innovation research institute established by Cardiff Metropolitan University (formerly UWIC) in 1994. They have developed a world-wide reputation in developing new knowledge within product design and development, whilst simultaneously applying and transferring this knowledge within both academia and industry. In May 2021, PDR were ranked Number 1 in The iF World Design Guide Index for 2021.

Andrew also talks about Clwstwr in this interview, which is a partnership between Cardiff University, University of South Wales and Cardiff Metropolitan University and is one of nine Creative Industry Clusters, funded through UKRI's Industrial Challenge Strategy Fund, that aim to grow the UK creative economy.

Cardiff Metropolitan University says that Clwstwr places innovation at the core of media production in South Wales by bringing together all the major Welsh broadcasters with independent film and television production companies, national creative organisations, creative co-working spaces, tech start-ups, strategic agencies and central / local governments.  On behalf of Cardiff Met, PDR has developed and implemented a tailored design-driven innovation programme to support participating organisations in developing innovative solutions to sector challenges.

Andrew says:

“It’s about being actively open to change. So, the public sector to my mind, is there to serve people – and that service has to meet their needs and their values. [These] change over time and the opportunities to serve those needs and values also change over time as well.”

“The better that we understand those opportunities and the more often we are looking at ourselves, looking to develop new ways to meet those needs, that has an impact on the wellbeing and therefore the prosperity of the country. So, in this context, I think innovation means striving to create a public sector that enables Wales to have a more prosperous future.”

Katie also concurs on this point, and argues that Wales does have the potential to emphatically deal with the innovation demand, but only if the heart of the issue is acknowledged and addressed properly:

“Particularly in the public sector, there is also this problem where you have different organisations responsible for the same issue in different regions. […] And there is a huge risk of ‘reinventing the wheel’, because each region is trying to develop a solution independently for each problem.”

“There are some enormously innovative people in the public sector, and I don’t think there is a lack of skill in the public sector, but I do think there is a lack of support for them.”

“Putting somebody on their own, isolating them and expecting them to become someone really innovative, [compared to] building a structured process in a space to create solutions, is the difference between someone being able to be part of an ‘innovation active’ organisation, and someone who can’t [or will struggle to innovate within the sector].”