States of Change: The journey of learning through innovative action

Paper Giant
Dec 11, 2019 · 31 min read

An early impact evaluation of the 2019 States of Change learning program for public servants working in Australia and New Zealand

“States of Change exposed us to a wealth of ideas, processes and stories; all of which contributed to and built upon our collective wisdom”

This evaluation was completed during the closing months of the States of Change learning program. In just a six-month period, participants gained new perspectives, refined project purpose, and valuable skills and expertise.

The core skills and attitudes of Nesta’s Competency Framework for Experimenting and Public Problem Solving are evident across the work of each team. The skills were not always new to the participants, but the States of Change approaches encouraged participants to push beyond their current boundaries of expertise and skill. Their mindsets have shifted in the following principal ways:

  • (re)gained a personal and practical appreciation for innovation ideas and practice;
  • reprioritised the importance of community and stakeholder involvement; and
  • (re)connected with the practical benefit of deep reflection and its relevance to their work.

Participants expressed interest and emerging expertise in a broad range of the framework’s core skills. Creative facilitation, prototyping and iteration, systems thinking, storytelling and advocacy, and demonstrating value were skills commonly practiced and appreciated by participants. In particular, their practice of citizen and stakeholder engagement, data literacy and evidence, and political and bureaucratic awareness is the most promising and reflective of broader and deeper practice approaches and thinking. In many cases, States of Change has created opportunity for reconnection with these skills and therefore produced a new sense of purpose and energy behind the use of these skills.

The practice of the core skills and attitudes are found throughout their project work and common benefits included:

  • Refined project purpose and problem framing
  • Clearer lines of inquiry and connection to immediate and longer term actions
  • Increased team/community cohesion and collective ownership of ideas and solutions

Participants commonly described organisational-level barriers when talking about embedding and sharing the States of Change ways of working with others. The participating teams all aspired and had initial plans to share their new way of working with others but did not readily identify their capacity to encourage a wider culture of public innovation. They described the critical need to have active commitment by their organisational leadership to realise any significant change in the development of innovation craft in their workplaces.

They leave the States of Change program with a shared commitment to find ways to continue to bring these ideas to life through their work. For some, the lessons and reflections experienced during this six-month program had an impact that they believe will serve them a lifetime. It will be interesting to see where they find themselves and their practice in another six months or in six years.

Paper Giant was commissioned by Nesta to design and deliver this evaluation of its 2019 States of Change learning program.

The quotations used in this report are attributable to participants of the 2019 States of Change program. The vignettes featured in this report are not always reflective of a singular team or individual experience. They represent experiences articulated by a number of individuals or teams and are presented in this narrative form to convey additional meaning.

Setting the scene

The States of Change core foundational program is multifaceted — it is primarily a learning program, while also trying to achieve organisational change and project outcomes. There are three main levels of learning within States of Change:

  1. Individual learning
  2. Project-based learning
  3. Organisational transfer

The learning program is built around the context and needs of participating teams and focuses on developing capacity and capability for innovative action within their respective projects. This learning through doing is guided by Nesta’s Competency Framework for Experimenting and Public Problem Solving.

States of Change is also interested in equipping participating teams with the tools, mindsets and behaviours that will enable them to evolve innovation practice within their organisations and work settings.

Eight teams of public servants participated in the 2019 States of Change learning program. Two teams were cross-sectoral and had members from the community actively engaged in their change project (as part of a community organisation and as volunteer community representatives). Together, they engaged in immersive, intensive learning events six times over the 6-month program, typically for 3–5 days at a time.

Built around a change project logic, their program journey commenced with ‘induction and scoping’ and took them through ‘exploring and framing’, ‘developing and testing’, and ‘validating and embedding’ learning events. Each event involved phase-aligned faculty and guest faculty and exposure to changemakers and practitioners of relevance. The learning program concluded with a reflection-focused 2-day retreat in September and their graduation in October 2019. Throughout the learning program, faculty are accessible to participants and their live projects evolve through the application of the new tools and methods and targeted ‘homework’ challenges assigned by the faculty.

The participating team also includes a team sponsor, now referred by the States of Change as an executive team leader. This individual does not attend the learning events but is a leader within their agency who has strategic ownership of the project and/or a public innovation agenda. They are involved to create conditions to enable innovation practice and learning during the program and beyond. During the program, they are present at key sharing events and the final project/program debrief event led by participants. These individuals are referred to as sponsors for the purposes of this report.

There is no prescribed learning goal or project outcome; each journey is unique to the team, the project and their organisational context.

“We came to the program…not as empty vessels”

As a cohort, the teams reflect a diverse range of career experiences in change-making policy and program reform. They are established public servants and represent the deep and diverse expertise and experience of contemporary public servants in Australia and New Zealand. Only a small number of participants work in dedicated innovation areas within the public service.

“these are the fierce superheroes that you want throwing up the post it notes one handed as they write a briefing note with the other. They do not swirl around on clouds!”

The teams included a diverse range of potential public innovation practitioners. They ranged from innovation sceptics to advocates, but were united in their commitment to:

  • make a difference through their work;
  • connect with innovative, effective ways of working; and
  • deliver better governance and public policy, investment and service.

Evaluation for program learning

This evaluation explores the learning effectiveness of the States of Change program and the potential for its ongoing impact. The evaluation is framed using Nesta’s Competency Framework for Experimenting and Public Problem Solving and provides preliminary answers to the following key evaluation questions:

  1. To what extent are shifts in mindsets and behaviours evident among program participants?
  2. To what extent are core skills being applied by program participants?
  3. Did the program provide participants with increased confidence in this new way of working?
  4. How have project approaches, outcomes and outputs demonstrated core innovation skills, mindsets and behaviours?
  5. Is there indication of innovation craft development within the participants’ wider public innovation ecosystem?

The learning design and logic of States of Change is built on the idea that public innovation is created through collective strength and action. For this reason, any assessment of learning effectiveness is examined at the team and cohort level using a mix of participant- and program-created sources. We also conducted participant interviews and surveys during the final weeks of the program.

To what extent are shifts in mindsets and behaviours evident among program participants?

Many of the mindsets and behaviours described by Nesta’s Competency Framework were present in the participants before the program. The shifts observed and reported relate to how participants now value and prioritise these key attitudes and behaviours within their work practice. It is common for participants to come away with fresh perspectives around what public innovation is and can be. They also develop new reflections regarding their identity as public innovators.

Working together built from collective agility, empathy and resilience
Working Together within the States of Change model talks about ‘engaging citizens and stakeholders to create shared ownership of new solutions’. Working together was a key feature of the States of Change learning journey for many participants. Members of the 2019 cohort deepened their connection to the importance of engagement and this was demonstrable in how they shifted and increasingly balanced agility and empathy in their approaches. States of Change provided them the tools, supportive space, and persistent push to move them from a place of comfort into active learning and listening to quickly evolve their understanding, ideas and solutions.

“It gave us the means to discuss and workshop the hard issues and we learnt to appreciate looking at these from each other’s perspectives”

Even where teams needed to come through several testing and iteration loops, they demonstrated to themselves, and to others, their commitment to continue to work with stakeholders and their colleagues to create change. For participants, this change will benefit from solutions that make sense, matter to others and create meaningful value for people affected by the policy or project.

They also remained resilient when things didn’t go as planned, which is noteworthy given that many of them were entering this direct engagement space for the first time and/or applying a new method or approach. They found ways to adjust to shifting needs, increased complexity and diversity of data and evidence. This commonly included:

  • Overcoming team and stakeholder conflict of ideas and priorities through tough conversations
  • Accepting complexity and diversity and working with it, rather than navigating around it
  • Realising that commitment to and engagement with the process can be more indicative of progress than the swift delivery of an end product or solution

“we were much more open-minded when we spoke to people”

Whether this was the first time they engaged with citizens and stakeholders or not, they now did this with a willingness and plan to build alternative, new understanding of the problem or issue at hand. The methods of gathering information were not their typical approaches. The people they engaged were not the ‘usual suspects’. Where engagement was already a part of their practice, it would have been later in the process and focused on ‘selling’ the policy or idea.

“equipped us to adopt an experimental mindset, which meant generating hypotheses before solutions and testing our ideas in quick and informal ways rather than waiting for polished final products to find out if they were any good”

This was truly a new way of activating ideas for the participants and something they valued and appreciated at the individual, team and project level. They experienced the value of a viable alternative to: “producing something through to completion and sign-off before an external stakeholder sees it.”

They experienced the most benefit from involving citizens and stakeholders in their process when they combined this approach within data collection, analysis and prototyping phases. It gave them the advantage of different perspectives so that they could acknowledge the complexity while maintaining the momentum of development and experimentation. The open and reflective culture of learning encouraged by States of Change also enabled them to challenge “personal biases” and “identify knowledge gaps and unobvious opportunities” within their own viewpoints.

“…became more powerful as a collective as we learnt innovative and entertaining ways of tackling difficult conversations and taking risks to test new ideas”

With respect to ‘working together’, participants are aligned in the belief that they are in a better place in terms of personal and project development. Even where solutions or ideas did not yet emerge, the level of citizen and stakeholder engagement in the process was indicative of significant progress. Sometimes this trust with citizens was more critical to project development and teams gained a greater, practical appreciation of this type of progress. The tools and methods meant they “engaged more deeply and broadly with the community.”

Accelerated learning through action-orientation, active reflection and deep curiosity

“innovation is more of a back-and-forth process, not the linear line we often think of as progress”

During the program, signals of project and learning progress were not what they were ordinarily familiar with and at times progress was unclear to participants. It meant that they had to learn and unlearn what progress can look like when involving different approaches, contexts or lenses. During this process of learning and unlearning, participants report habits of active reflection and iteration practice to keep themselves orientated towards action and impact. This was not without its challenges as the experience did trigger skepticism, anxiety and frustration.

“Seeing what worked and what didn’t has helped inform our future approach to supporting the region, our stakeholders and ourselves.”

For many participants, this mindset and behaviour shift involved bringing their previous experiences and observations to life through constructive and facilitated discussion. It was particularly novel for them to have a structure and language — a sort of framework — to collectively describe and deal with issues like ‘dark matter’ and system-level levers and obstacles. They used this curiosity and reflection to make the seemingly intangible and unknowable become targets of actions and line of inquiries. They were better able to decipher between real and perceived dark matter and expand their understanding of their sphere of influence.

Engaging more people means more care but doesn’t always mean more time

It’s hard to explain to others as seeing is really believing. How can you explain to others who haven’t experienced what we have experienced? They would think we were mad — I would have. But the truth is we have spoken to more people, gathered more data and are now in a more connected and informed place in terms of our policy and strategy development — and in a much shorter time frame. It’s easier, better and more efficient!

We were translating our data and refining our problem framing with much greater efficiency. This is something many of us didn’t anticipate given the involvement of so many more voices and types of evidence. We thought there wouldn’t be any consensus and we’d become stuck but it “…actually made it easier” and “…made us have better questions and lines of inquiry”.

To what extent are core skills being applied by program participants?

For the purposes of this evaluation, core skills refer to the 13 skills described by Nesta’s Competency Framework for Experimenting and Public Problem Solving. Participants’ application of these skills are observable in how they now see their project contexts, develop ideas and solutions and involve others in their innovation process. The participants’ project summaries, reflection essays and follow-up depth interviews were primary sources of evidence for our assessment of their practice and use of the core skills. We developed the following rubric to help categorise and visually represent the extent to which the core skills are being applied by program participants:

In general, the application of skills by the participants demonstrated mature understanding and intelligent application of the core skills, rather than application for the sake of it. All three domains of experimental problem solving are evident, however, some core skills are privileged and/or more readily practiced. The challenge of moving from traditional to innovation practice within the public sector is ever present. A common tension point is whether to trust the process or prioritise delivery. Participants describe placing significant trust in the States of Change process and themselves to overcome these obstacles.

Working together through confident and equipped citizen and stakeholder engagement and adaptive and creative facilitation styles

“From market pop-ups to one-on-one interviews, our team has chatted with more than 650 residents and visitors…over six months — not bad in a community of fewer than 2000 people”

Participants readily highlight their application of the working together core skills of citizen and stakeholder engagement, creative facilitation and building bridges. They described these core skills as being areas of prior knowledge and expertise for them but articulated their improvement in these areas as being attributable to the use of States of Change tools and thinking. They have created opportunity for action and future structures from engaging in these critical competencies.

“…we prototyped an Open Ground meeting…attracted 24 participants, with 20 reporting that they felt inspired by and engaged during the planned activities.”

Even making citizen and stakeholder engagement possible during the program timeframe was a challenge for most teams. This was typically due to internal processes and complex project histories. Despite this, they all adopted creative ways to connect with citizens and stakeholders. The value of involving the competencies of working together is now cemented: “By speaking to and spending time with people affected by the issues we gained deeper levels of insight into the challenge and challenged the assumptions we held previously.”

Structure, tools and inspiration are so valuable to realise progress and impact as a collective

“Bringing together the analysis of this data was a good exercise and experience in working together. Prototyping was…a time when we worked with energy and positivity as one.”

Interviewing the community as a collective was another valuable change in our way of working. It wasn’t a revelation but rather validation of our project and community commitments. We were all familiar with the approaches and principles involved but testing tools and finding ways to deliver these collectively were something new. The program was a space where we were supported while we ‘tried and tested’ and “given access to practitioners with a deep knowledge, not of our work, but of the experiences and learnings gained from similar endeavours elsewhere in the world”

Accelerating learning through wider engagement of knowledge to enable new understanding for better futures

“The feedback from these interactions built more evidence or allowed us to stop ideas from progressing that were not possible as well as allowing us to develop rapport with stakeholders”

They readily valued the prototyping and iterating and systems thinking aspects of the States of Change learning design. They actively associated these two skills areas with project and team development, alongside the working together skills. In terms of data literacy and evidence, the States of Change tools were being engaged to consciously bring together ‘different kinds of data’ in a more credible and meaningful way.

“process saved a lot of time and energy, which could be diverted into developing evidence-based policies which was far more likely to have the impact we were looking for.”

The program pushed the teams to take on more activities, more tasks and apply new methods and tools. The participants demonstrated commitment to try these new ways of working but initially it did make many of them feel that it would delay progress. Now practiced, the application of skills has accelerated and energised the development journeys.

Prototyping and iteration was identified as central to this new momentum. It provided them the time: “to develop and test a prototype really helped us refine our thinking and avoid pitfalls.” It also helped how they could involve their stakeholders by developing and resetting relationships built on trust and co-creation of ideas and solutions.

“found prototyping to be a very practical way to plan and construct actions to test our hypotheses and it was a great experience that enabled us to work together with energy and positivity.”

Many teams leveraged the other participants and participating teams to evolve their approaches too: “learnt from each other in relation to successes and failures as we worked on our projects. This was inspiring and informative and helped to energise our efforts”.

Valuing the approaches is one thing but you need to be pushed to put them into practice

We had all eyes on us — “We just had to give it go and continue to be open to learn and unlearn.” Without States of Change, we just wouldn’t have gone about things the same way. We would have brought the usual suspects together, drafted up a strategy and got it signed off. Simple as that. If we were being bold, we’d have pushed through some version of delivery. Either way, there wouldn’t have been any on-the-ground benefit from it all.

Signing up to the program was an act of innovation. It created organisational levers for a multidisciplinary team to be drawn together for professional development and capability building purposes. It both created permission and expectation for trying something new and putting the idea of the ‘right way’ to the side. Because States of Change made it “the homework”, our team were equipped with the tools and pre-practice to make it happen. We had to overcome our preference for the perfect approach and right expertise.

Leading change by leveraging political and bureaucratic awareness through value-demonstrating storytelling and advocacy

“anchoring our work in stories and insights”

There is clear evidence that participants used the tools to enhance and refine their understanding of the eco-systems surrounding their work and saw these as steps towards leading change. They also used storytelling, visualisation and other mapping techniques to engage decision-makers and sponsors in their project development and insights.

“used some of the templates with our executives, getting them…into the design spirit”

They have used States of Change tools, techniques and templates to navigate project engagement in novel and effective ways “to ensure executive buy-in”. For some teams, application of the skills presented opportunity to escalate access to senior leadership.

Innovation is overwhelming — you must dig deep, trust the tools and cast a wide net

“Because of the scope of the problem this turned out to be a big distraction as there is a torrent of data each day…”

There was just so much to make sense of — it was distracting and overwhelming. Thankfully, the ‘exploring and framing’ session was ready to help. There was a sense of mental ease gained by thinking about innovating in different ways, using different metaphors. It enabled us to accept the uncertainty and translate our challenge into different lines of inquiry.

Putting our energy, ideas and tools into action wasn’t easy. We leveraged our networks of goodwill and carefully navigated government processes to achieve approval to engage expertise and insights from across agencies and departments — and interview services users.

Did the program provide participants with increased confidence in this new way of working?

“Thank you, States of Change. I have a fancy new toolkit, vocabulary and the confidence to start and influence conversations. I didn’t save the world…., but I did change me.”

The confidence of creating effective change-making teams is something participants commonly attributed to the States of Change learning journey. A confidence in articulating the value and logic of change efforts is also another important growth area for most participants. This confidence is also built upon an active recognition that innovation and change-making require collective strength, discipline and commitment. There are no “shrinking violets” on this journey, they are now empowered by “articulating a narrative” which can make an impact.

Confidence through struggle and resilience
Each team described undertaking a level of struggle to be able to apply the core skills and attitudes, use the tools and templates and/or enable change during the program. The struggles described included personal, team, project and/or organisational level conflict and obstacles, real and perceived. Overcoming these obstacles is a great source of confidence for many participants. They described having gained confidence from both experiencing the challenging events, remaining resilient but also because they now have the specific know-how and tools to navigate these foreseeable and common barriers to realising improvement.

Confidence through genuine collective action
Another key aspect that enabled this new way of working was the emphasis placed on how to build a strong team so that a collective strength could be leveraged to make an impact. The ‘new way or working’ for many participants is in fact working as a genuine team and collective, either with community/project partners or internally with their colleagues. The States of Change program has provided the opportunity and tools to practice and learn from taking a strengths-based approach when developing policies and project of change.

It’s about the right tool, at the right time — but without the open mindset and curious, critical lens you’re rudderless

We now have tried and tested the tools and explored the thinking and different ways of working offered by States of Change. We’re not driven by the techniques and ideas, but the process has enhanced how we operate, and we are now equipped with a suite of tools when we come stuck during the ‘rough patches’ and ‘foggy’ moments along the way.

We have evolved our skills and confidence to take risks in how we work together and how we work within our community. We all have had different experiences of our progress but a collective refusal to return to our former way of working has the potential to keep us on our journey. We have the skills and the will, so we just need to make this happen.

Confidence through deep reflection and reconnection
Faculty-led exercises were a significant part of their reflection journeys but most critical was the huge amount of time that team members spent together as colleagues and learners. The act of reflection in the immersive, whole-of-self way modelled by States of Change is a very new way of engaging with themselves, not to mention their colleagues. Despite the hard, uncomfortable work involved, it was valued by all teams. The ‘EQ’ check-in practice and reflection philosophy embedded within the program brought forward emotional strength not ordinarily engaged with in their workplaces.

Sometimes it takes others to help us see our growth and innovation progress

“on the retreat…my team helped me see that we had just been round one innovation loop with our project and that being an innovation novice was nothing to be apologetic for.”

When you become so fixed on what delivery can look like, the States of Change approach can feel risky. Team trust, reinforcement from the States of Change faculty and active reflection provides opportunity to see, demonstrate and articulate progress.

Our project in many ways may not have been the right fit to expect impact but the tools, exercises, process and ways of working are so relevant. The program gives real incentive to replicate the approach — “Hopefully my experiences this year will pay dividends for years to come.”

Confidence through sharing with others
The active commitment expressed by all teams to continue to share the tools and templates and advocate for the States of Change mindsets and behaviours are indicative of a confidence in these new ways of working. This is noteworthy given that only a small number of participants described coming to the program with an established remit or personal commitment to actively sharing or advocating for experimental problem solving and public innovation. Their role or remit are no longer a prerequisite for public innovation practice. As a collective, they are demonstrating increased potential for generating impact as they have evolved confidence in their skills combined with a vision of what is possible.

It’s about enhancing and pushing the boundaries of our expertise — taking a tough, honest look at ourselves

“We need to show the community that we value their opinion, that we have listened, and we need to demonstrate action.”

We were, and still are, evolving an engagement model for our work. The diverse range of tools, techniques and stories of impact in action really inspired us and made the hard work feel more worthwhile. We came to be able to see how our previous engagement efforts were clearly excluding some voices and not realising the potential of our collective knowledge and insight. Meetings became focused on idea generation and not leaping to solutions. We’re finding comfort in moving past the pursuit of perfection to real ways of co-creating: “A picture, even a very badly drawn one, is worth a thousand words.”

How have project approaches, outcomes and outputs demonstrated core innovation skills, mindsets and behaviours?

The project approaches and outputs observed represent active and considered application of the core innovation skills, mindsets and behaviours. At this point in time, outcomes are not yet expected to fully emerge.

Seeing things from different perspectives can make things clearer, they enhance your focus on what matters

“States of Change approach demonstrates the value of bringing that community voice into your work early and effectively.”

Ethnographic methods of collecting data was attractive to me and knew it would enable us to get a deeper understanding of the system of the people and their ways of living and making a living that made up such a major part of the sector we were looking at.

What we found were active voices and a sector with strategies of its own. We moved from looking at solutions to seeing people and their systems, not just our own vantage point.

Bringing in prototyping to these spaces enhanced things even further. We had overcome the “feeling of not being ready enough” and found momentum and energy “in the deep end”

The project approaches and outputs indicate a commitment by all teams to try new ways of working. The level of innovation skills, mindsets and behaviours in action articulated by participants through their project summaries and reflection essays demonstrates the capacity of the States of Change program to leverage a willingness to innovate and translate this interest into observable public innovation. There are also examples where public stakeholders actively recognise and value this new way of working.

Common areas of project impact due to the application of States of Change approaches included:

  • Teams now have a wider and deeper line of sight of what is possible, where insight and knowledge can come from and a more nuanced understanding of the obstacles and opportunities within their respective project contexts
  • Resilience, agility and empathy is evident throughout as teams overcome setbacks and resist internal and external pressures to pursue default thinking and status quo solutions

“We are encouraged but anxious. We realise we’re just starting our journey but if we break things down into manageable pieces, we can celebrate small achievements and remain motivated to keep going…”.

  • Lines of inquiry are refined and connected to more specific areas of influence and action
  • Community and stakeholder involvement are increasingly participatory and practical efforts are made to leverage collective strength, including with government partners

“data revealed that this fractured community did indeed share a vision: a collective desire to protect its pristine environment, while fostering a thriving economy”

  • Iteration and testing of ideas and solutions is more central to problem development, project planning and relationship building
  • Sense-making using diverse methods and evidence sources is efficiently translated to enable logic-building, action and shared understanding
  • Improved problem understanding is more readily accepted as preferred progress over delivery of possibly unwanted, unsustainable and wasteful solutions and ideas

“applied the new tools and methods by anchoring our work in the stories and insights we learnt from the people impacted by our policies”

Less commonly reported, but emerging impacts of the more innovative practice included:

  • Stakeholders readily observe the new approaches and mindsets and voice appreciation for how the teams involve their knowledge and viewpoints
  • Development of structures to embed and enhance citizen and stakeholder voice within the project environment from the immediate to the long term

“We believe we have flipped the positive to negative feedback ratio on our project from 10/90 to 90/10 over the past six months”

Remaining resilient and focused on action is the work — staying together is critical

‘We have grown as a team…an occasional lapse in respect and outside events, tested our resilience.’

Reflective exercises and the EQ check-in were so valuable, and so critical for us. The work and the program of learning is so intense. It never lets up. Working together is hard but the community impact we’re seeking relies on this. It requires us to really question the multiple, diverse needs of our operating environment — “is there an easier way of doing this…?”

We may not feel that we have made the impact our community needs and should come to expect but as a collective we have come along way — “we would have come to a new way of operating at some point, but the States of Change process and this team coming together has accelerated.”

We’re not the only one changing — it’s all around us and substantial

“It gave me a feeling of hope and excitement for the project that I didn’t have previously.”

Unlike the other teams, our agency is undergoing massive changes. It’s been a test of character and resilience to keep wanting to learn and develop our project and truly explore and challenge its potential. It was also a practical reminder that things are always in motion. We’re not the only ones strategising, innovating, creating or making decisions. It’s happening in the worlds of our citizens and stakeholders but also in the world of our team and our colleagues.

“templates and tools we were given were really handy and helped us …breathe life into previously difficult and overwhelming projects.”

The depth reached through the reflective practice is something that was profound for me and others. We don’t need to add to the dark matter!

Is there indication of innovation craft development within the participants’ wider public innovation ecosystem?

“Change! Change is the common thread throughout all our conversations — internal cultural and organisational change, and how we lead and model change across the sector, so we’re prepared for tomorrow’s problems, today.”

The changes demonstrated and articulated by participants and attributed to their participation in the States of Change program focused on two elements: evolving core mindset and habits of innovation practice and gaining innovation methods and tools. Learning how to create space for or how to embed new approaches are less evident to participants at this point. It is common for participants to recognise a limit to their capacity to make this impact and referred to needing their leadership to better enable this wider change. This does not mean that they are not making attempts to influence their public innovation ecosystem, but it does mean that they are yet to articulate this focus or intent and do not speak with the same collective strength evident at the project change level.

Awareness of the conditions and interest in embedding innovation craft is evident
Participants described an increase in awareness of organisational- and system-level barriers to evolving their practice. They aspired to create space and engage strategically to support the spread of innovation practice but in many cases saw their sphere of impact as being limited by their role. Most teams had immediate plans to publicly share their learning with others, including colleagues and their immediate or more senior leadership. They also were exploring ways to catalogue and encourage the use of the tools, templates and other States of Change resources.

“toying with the idea of establishing a shared working space, essentially an active innovation library filled with States of Change resources or pitching our skills through the innovation champions’ network. Lots of ideas, half formed and ready to pilot!”

A common intent is also to continue to foster and encourage the States of Change program’s deep engagement and reflection approaches in their everyday work. Some participants, where they work within or lead other teams, are actively demonstrating their new practices and applying the competency framework thinking to their capability conversations and plans. Many teams described starting or planning to start a custom guide or resource library to enable the sharing of the tools, techniques and approaches with other colleagues.

“…genuine listening and sharing have been strengthened by this process and we’ve made a commitment to spend less time at our desks, and open up our offices to encourage curious visitors and walk-ins”

One program shortcoming commonly identified was the absence of more active, specific commitment by their agencies

“must include our peers alongside our executives and leaders to ensure that they appreciate, support and contribute to what it is we’re trying to achieve. We need to continue being brave, bold and courageous and trialing new ways of working through prototyping.”

Participants described the need to have more structured learning plans and development goals set to ensure more active engagement of sponsors and other key stakeholders across their organisations. They identified that these plans should be the focus of discussions at the beginning, during and again at the end of the program. These regular check-ins would enable them to better articulate their development to their colleagues and sponsors and therefore contribute to improved connection to the broader value and purpose of the journey. This was particularly important when participants were balancing competing priorities in their workplace.

It’s tough sitting in the two worlds — deliver, deliver, deliver is always in your ear.

“The pressure from my senior leaders to continue to do the same work i.e., finding announceables, providing tangible updates and new projects was overwhelming. Nothing new there.”

You really can’t take your team for granted. Our collective strengths are the only reason we could achieve at all. It was a battle each time we tried to make progress. Sometimes that was just with ourselves or with each other. Not to mention, the challenges we faced when within the community or navigating internal stakeholder expectations. It was “enormously difficult and quite disheartening.” For me it was like looking into a mirror. But sadly, I knew, this was not a show of strength or power, this was anxiety — this was dark matter!

It was clear that we were being pulled in all directions, including apart. We’re all smart, intelligent people and powerful in our profession. We could all see it so clearly. As the rush to solutions divided us, our collective strength waned. We went through the motions at times but “but in all honesty, we struggled to make the most of this opportunity.”

For innovation craft to flourish, participants described the need for both bottom-up and top-down strategies and approaches.
For most of their organisations, leadership buy-in and support remains key to “build the culture and broader conditions that will allow this design approach to become part of our normal working practices.” When surveyed at the end of the program, competition for their time was a big part of the challenges faced by participants in thinking about spreading the core skills and mindsets with others. They widely identified the relevance of States of Change tools, templates and approaches in making it easier for them. They also indicated a lack of organisational encouragement (e.g. working culture, sponsor, immediate or senior leadership) as constraining their potential to share the skills and mindsets with others.

It’s too much to fly solo when you’re traveling against the current — this needs to be an organisational change effort and 100% of the time.

“I don’t feel all that positive about the experience.”

This is hard to say out loud when there’s been so many great opportunities, lessons and tools gathered along the way. You can get wrapped up in how great it all is, but it’s been hard, and I don’t know if we’ve made any great strides. It was all too much for a team and project like ours. How are we supposed to learn, make project progress AND bring this back to our organisations? This is also not our full-time job.

Despite this activation of empathy and person-centric policy designing, we are still faced with the reality of our wider workplace and this is far from the common way of working. We haven’t been able to maintain the momentum we had mid-way through the program. We have succumbed to the “competing pressures”. It’s been so disappointing — “I don’t feel like we have gotten far enough to say the project has been a success.”

The program let us practice how “we can connect with other people and share our insights and knowledge in better ways.” — the hard work is doing that now we’re not supported and encouraged.

The value is having a public innovation culture and not simply a unit or project

“…it’s a culture of practice: fostering a supportive and creative learning culture in each of our workplaces allowing people the space to question, push boundaries, speak to user groups, fail, reflect and iterate to help progress innovative and inclusive policy thinking.”

They articulated plans to maintain alumni networks, make links with other public innovators in their agencies and evolve the practice within their immediate teams. This interest to remain connected is in part to maintain the collective strength and confidence gained during the program. They developed deeply personal, intellectual and practical bonds during the program process. Their resilience and courage come from this collective energy and wisdom. One team is considering plans to engage a third party to co-construct a new way of working.

“To help us achieve these things, we feel that we need a mentor going forward. One that will help us to stay connected and continue disrupting the status quo.”

This evaluation was completed during the closing months of States of Change. In just a six-month period, participants gained new perspectives, refined project purpose, and valuable skills and expertise. They share a commitment to find ways to continue to bring these ideas to life through their work. For some, the lessons and reflections experienced during this six-month program have an impact that they believe will serve them a lifetime. It will be interesting to see where they find themselves and their practice in the next six months or in six years.

The system view helps you see possibility but doesn’t mean you can change it, that’s something else

“I was particularly interested in how my department could truly transition into innovation, from lip-service, to living and breathing innovation.”

Our problem is just that — our problem. The people and organisations who have the potential to make real change have no ‘carrot’ and there’s no real ‘stick’. Even our immediate internal stakeholders have low expectations for change.

Even though we don’t yet have the answers yet, we have the vision, better lines of inquiries, smarter ways to engage and deeper sense of our strengths and our part in the change system. I have experienced how critical “innovation appetite” is to stimulate change and create a demand for it. We are better able to see what different stakes are involved in the current and future states. The program has left me seeing things more clearly and connecting with my own strength as an innovator.

Lessons for public innovation education

During the evaluation project, a number of broader observations were made by participants and the evaluation team that didn’t really fit with the key evaluation questions posed.

We thought they offered useful lessons and reflections on the potential of public innovation, as well as an ever present reminder to find the right form for these types of interventions.

  1. Public innovation education can be an act of social change
  2. Active experience and personal (re)connection is how public innovation is better understood
  3. Taking a strength-based approach, building reconnection and recommitment of public servants to the service enhances public value
  4. Peer-learning and faculty-led learning creates opportunity to democratise public innovation beyond job grades or titles, special branches or units
  5. Active and specific organisational commitment is key to embedding innovation craft beyond a program of learning
  6. Co-constructed learning plans and goals could unlock apprehension and sense of risk surrounding program participation
  7. The responsibility to provide benefit at the public, organisation and personal level is felt by all — not just those seeking a return on investment

The change demanded and the commitment to provide benefit to the public, which is felt by all (program team, participants, organisations) means there are often higher than normal expectations on everyone to be extraordinary in terms of knowledge, energy, wisdom and commitment.

As we reflect further with the States of Change team, we’ll continue to share ideas and inquiries that emerge from these discussions. In the meantime, we’d like to thank the States of Change participants who gave so generously of their time and thoughts throughout the evaluation. Thank you.


States of Change (2019). Skills, attitudes and behaviours that fuel public innovation. London: Nesta.

McGann, M., Lewis, J. M. and Blomkamp, E. (2018) Mapping Public Sector Innovation Units in Australia and New Zealand: 2018 survey report. Melbourne: The Policy Lab, University of Melbourne.

Noveck, B. and Glover, R. (2019) Today’s Problem, Yesterday’s Toolkit. Melbourne: ANZSOG. Melbourne.

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