I’ve just seen this article by John Craig – of the newly formed third sector innovation exchange – which is well worth a read. For me it identifies an important part of the debate that public service reform that gets lost in debates about ‘competition’, ‘choice’, ‘contestability’, whatever. The point, in John’s words, is that:
‘There is much competition between institutions - for innovation, we need to enable competition between ideas.’
I think this is really important. It’s the difference between process innovation – doing the same things better – and product innovation – new products and services that do better things. The problem is that public services are much better at the first of these two, when the second is so important. The most exciting parts of public service reform recognise and address this – as Demos argued recently in our work on individual budgets in social care. The value of individual budgets is that they don’t just offer a choice between different service providers, they create the opportunity find whole new solutions to problems.
John – and the new DIUS whitepaper (pdf) – argue that it falls to intermediaries to make the switch to this more substantive form of innovation. Their role is to create partnerships and commissioning frameworks that create plurality, rather than just ‘contestability’. It will be interesting to see what they come up with.