The implementation of innovations in the municipal management
Posted on February 26, 2014
Innovation, initiative, leading change and breakthrough are concepts that we are used to associating with the private sector, business and science. Even me, after twenty years as the city manager of Holon, who had a lot of experience working in different positions in the public sector, I am satisfied and proud to say that these concepts can and should guide the directors in the public sector in general and the municipal sector in particular.
Thanks to our experience in Holon, I can say that if you believe in and are sure about the need and the ability to innovate, you will succeed to have many people follow you. First, as claimed in Rogers’s “diffusion of innovation” model, the innovators are those managers and employees who by their nature tend to accept changes easily and are not afraid of changes. They “jump into the water” with enthusiasm and they even love to be challenged, excited and curious about it.
The “early adopters” who are relatively few, will join the innovators. The “early adopters” are the managers and employees who are a bit afraid of any change, but after the first group has adopted the change, they are willing to learn from the experience of others and “dip their feet in the water”. In the next stage after the “pioneers”, a larger group will join whose Rogers call the “early majority” who already see the benefits implemented and exercised by others and join pretty quickly. Thereafter, the “late majority” will also join. It is also a relatively large and significant group that is ready to “join the party”. Finally, the “laggards” will join. They are few and see any change and innovation as very difficult and they may never adopt the innovation or may adopt it if they don’t have any choice even though it seems that they dislike it. In the end of the process they become insignificant in terms of quantity and impact.
I realized that this model has proved itself each time anew. We can clearly see this in adopting technological innovations: We will always find people who are “crazy for it”. They love to adopt innovations and to buy the most advanced gadgets that had just hit the market. They are the ones that will enjoy discovering new functions those that are useful and those that are not. Only after a while, we see the rest of the public adopting the innovation. They will adopt, with hesitation at first and then increasingly with ease, what was only for specialists. Finally, the miraculous device of yesterday becomes everyone’s device of today, a regular tool for every child and even for every baby. Today it is known that infants who are only a few months old, achieve the highest degree of natural smooth motion with their finger on the screen, that anyone who was born prior the new millennium would have to learn.
However, in my opinion, a technological innovation is only one aspect and not the most important. Technology is a tool that makes it easier for us to adopt innovation in thinking, in ideas, in concepts and in methods. We should understand that any new innovation can potentially be perceived as a threat, which decreases the feeling of security and survival. Most people tend to choose something which is familiar and known to them, but if we know how to bring innovation to the population. If we accompany, encourage and support it, we can even get those who express reservations to like it.
Here are some examples. Some of them have already become a public knowledge and others are in the stage of implementation and adoption.
Today, every business, every project and every private or public organization has a vision. However, over twenty years ago, defining a vision of the city and the municipality in Israel – was totally rare and almost non-existent. The idea that a bureaucratic organization which is expected to provide a number of basic services suddenly decides for itself what it wants to be , what it wants to excel in and how it differs from all the others – was considered rather pretentious and an unrealistic idea. Moreover the thought that you can focus on a subject such as “the city of children”, and through its inspiration set the programs and resources was almost unimaginable. The concerns, criticism, disbelief in its necessity, were expected and obvious. It was a thinking revolution. The fact that the vision of Holon was carried into effect and that many cities followed it was thanks to a belief in its way, determination and consistency, that motivates more people to join the circles: senior managers, middle managers, involved employees and ordinary employees, involved residents, residents who are not involved, residents of other cities, opinion and media leaders, visitors, professionals and ultimately an abstraction -called “public ” or “public opinion”.
Another example is the public participation in the decision making process through using new technology platforms. The conclusion that is gradually being established for many years is that it is important to set a public policy through understanding the public’s needs and expectations. Also, the decision making process relating to citizens or residents will include public participation in some steps. We had held public meetings for different themes already a number of years ago and even today we set public meetings as part of a preparation of a new master plan in Holon. At the same time, a year ago, we had set up an interactive website which invited anyone who wishes to contribute ideas to the renewed vision as part of refreshing the urban vision. The goal was to allow the residents share their opinion. Indeed, hundreds of ideas came from the public and we received comments and references. Today it is part of our new vision and we implemented it in our work plans. I believe that we will find technological ways, such as social networks for public discussion on different issues, also in the future. Of course, this will require a new mindset, one that knows how to handle criticism and even protest, but also knows how to teach the public what is the opportunity opened up and how to get the best out of it. I have no doubt that sooner than expected, the public will adopt the new possibilities, as today the use of social networks is growing and expanding as a significant communication channel towards the city.
A more recent example is the area of education. Today we can already see computers and ICT learning systems in schools and kindergartens, but this is not the issue here. Today, it is clear to many professionals, what the public already knows, that the education system and schools in their traditional format are losing their advantages. The teacher as a source of knowledge pales in comparison to the many sources of information that are available through the internet and the big questions that are asked: What will we teach? How to teach? How to teach better? One of the insights is to make learning meaningful to the student, causing the student to be proactive, to initiate and to be creative in the learning process, while exposing him to advanced technological means and reinforcing new skills that would be required in the future. This is also why memorization and rote -based tests are increasingly perceived as irrelevant. These days we are in the midst of a pilot project in nine kindergartens in Holon, where we combine the best of advanced technological means including computers, projectors and tablets, which will form a means of empowering pedagogical processes we seek to promote. Technology integration is done simultaneously with the training and long-term support of kindergarten staff: teachers and teacher’s assistants. The technology integration itself is not enough. We must understand and think through what benefits we actually want to achieve from it. Only on the basis of this understanding, it is possible and necessary to open new opportunities for the educational staff and children and show them the advantages of the innovation.