Speech to the Public Service Innovation Conference 2018

26th September, 2018


Good morning.


It is a pleasure to be here today to open this year’s conference on Public Service Innovation.


I am delighted to see such a large turnout; testament to the interest that exists across our public service in the important issue of innovation, development and change.


The Innovation Imperative:

Thomas Edison once said that ‘opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work’.


Keeping up with the today’s whirlwind pace of change can appear challenging even to the most ardent champions of reform and almost invariably seems like hard work to everyone else.


But it is safe to say that this dynamic and seismic shift in our modern working world, often referred to as the fourth industrial revolution, is neither going to slow down or be wished away.

That gives us, as public servants, two realistic choices – to grudgingly acquiesce to the change being foisted upon us by our environment – becoming followers and passive adherents; or we can be the agents of creativity and change; embracing the enormous opportunities available to us to give our citizens the most customised and targeted public services possible.


Furthermore, we are facing into an era where there is a seemingly endless growth in data.


This can seem daunting and worrying in terms of managing and regulating this proliferation of data.


But this also allows us to provide the most evidence-informed and data-driven public services ever, once that data is harnessed well and used appropriately.


Rapidly evolving technology and digital solutions now mean that we can provide vital services to the public in exciting and novel ways and in totally different environments.


These are opportunities we cannot and must not ignore. As public servants we not only have the opportunity to innovate, I believe we have an obligation to do so.


Our services to the public must be the most citizen-centric, impactful and efficient services that we can provide.



Our Public Service 2020:

Since I launched the Government’s Public Service Innovation and Development Framework, Our Public Service 2020, last December, I am delighted to report real and sustained progress.


The Public Service Leadership Board, who oversee this framework, have convened twice already and are due to meet again in two weeks.


This group of senior public service leaders, which of itself is an innovative governance model, agreed to prioritise 6 of the plan’s 18 core actions for immediate implementation across the wider public service.


These actions are in the key areas of promoting innovation, digitisation of services, improving communications, driving programme and project management, continuous professional development of our people and mainstreaming workforce planning.  


I extend my thanks to those public and civil servants, many of whom are here today, who are driving these actions and networking across Departments, sectors and agencies to help drive change.


Teams of subject matter experts from­ a wide range of public service bodies have scoped out initiatives to drive the delivery of outcomes under this plan, through well thought-out, prioritised work programmes and I look forward to engaging further with the Public Service Leadership Board as together we seek to forge a more collaborative and responsive public service.


Key Public Service Reforms:

Last week we learnt of the recommendations from the Commission on the Future of Policing. An Garda Síochána, now under new leadership, is facing into a period of sustained structural and organisational reform, which I believe will be welcomed by both members of the Force and the public.


However, I am heartened to see the Gardaí today showcasing their innovative Active Mobility Digital Programme, which, piloted in Limerick, will revolutionise the delivery of policing services in our communities once further embedded; leveraging the latest technology and completely re-imagining the standard way of policing to respond to citizens quickly in times of emergency.


That’s what is crucial in public service innovation.


We must continually challenge the well-rehearsed and well-worn ways of working to understand how we can better ourselves, as servants of the citizen. We must consistently ask ourselves how can we produce better policies or deliver more advanced services to meet changing demographic, economic, social and environmental pressures, as well as meeting growing public expectations?


A fine example of re-imagining service provision can be seen today through the work of the ‘HSE and Alone Co-ordination Programme’, which was piloted successfully in North Dublin and is now being scaled-up around the country.



This entirely different way of meeting the needs of an ageing population, through the Alone charity’s community outreach support network, shows the value of collaborating across organisational boundaries to provide the most suitable solution for the service-user in the community.


Valuable innovations like this help prevent acute hospital admissions and make the lives of our citizens better through local delivery, closest to the service user, in the most familiar setting possible.


New ways of working also means thinking about how we plan differently for the future workforce.


Our human resource planning must accommodate the workforce of the future to reflect the realities of automation and technology enabled solutions.


I am delighted to see Limerick City and County Council, the Revenue Commissioners and the National Transport Authority demonstrating how their technology-based solutions will make the citizens’ engagement with core public services easier and more integrated.


Useful, repeatable innovations need channels to be spread, so understanding how we communicate novel initiatives to difficult-to-reach audiences is important.


The Teaching Council will today show us how they have managed to reach out to thousands of teachers in hundreds of standalone schools to convey the important message of innovation.


Working with Other Innovators:

Working with new partners, public, voluntary or private is vital for innovation. It is what makes this event so important.


Different people and different organisational cultures challenge our commitments to the status quo.


That is why I am delighted to welcome Edel Creely from Trilogy Technologies to share with us her views from the perspective of an innovative disruptor and her insights as a leader within industry.


I am also glad to learn that Enterprise Ireland’s Small Business Innovation Research Team is here today to provide information on how it connects public bodies with start-up tech, data and analytics companies to solve public service problems using a novel procurement strategy.


I am pleased to welcome Sinead Smith and her team from Deloitte who are collaborating with my Department and the European Commission to examine Ireland’s public service innovation ecosystem and, importantly, to outline what we need to do to be the world leader in public service innovation.


The initial findings of this work seem to confirm much of what we have long suspected – Ireland is very good at pockets of innovation throughout our public services.


However, the real game-changer for us must be a clear, well-articulated and properly-understood innovation strategy for public services.


This will transform those pockets of innovation into system-wide, locally-led innovation, where creativity and change comes consistently from the frontline as well as from Board level.


If we are to fundamentally shift our innovation culture and climate, that will require you, as our leaders in public services, to ensure our people know what innovation is, are fully equipped with the skills to innovate and, crucially, know they have the permission to innovate.


The outcome of this project will complement the work being undertaken by the Action Team on Promoting a Culture of Public Service Innovation and I look forward to hearing the findings of the Deloitte/DPER collaboration in the next few weeks.


We are certainly not alone in our innovation journey. That is why it is important to hear from our peers in other countries that are pursuing similar agendas.


I’m grateful to Sara Carrasqueira and Pedro Ferreira from Portugal, and Eve Limbach-Pirn from Estonia, for coming here today to exchange views and experiences on what it means to innovate in public services.



Of course it is always good to be tested and questioned on our approach to reform and innovation, and potentially our own shortcomings or oversights, by leaders in academia and research.


I would like to thank Peter Totterdill from Workplace Innovation Europe and Kevin Richman from the OECD for travelling here today to join us and offer us their insights.


Kevin and his colleagues in the OECD’s Observatory for Public Sector Innovation tested a new Digital Innovation Skills Model, through a workshop with a large number of Irish Secretaries General and organisational leaders.


Kevin will present the OECD’s findings today. Officials in my Department are eager to implement the findings from the OECD’s study immediately and I expect this analysis will also help other countries to develop the core skills for innovation in this digital age.


Implementing Innovation:

I think a common misconception about innovation is that it simply means ideation, invention or creation.


While these are certainly important aspects of innovation, so too are the difficult tasks of scaling up and rolling out large programmes and projects.


This requires agreed methodologies with astute understanding of the principles of change management and stakeholder engagement.

Today’s conference blends innovation with programme and project management and I would like to acknowledge the efforts of the Project Managers’ Network who are well-represented here today.


I know the work they have delivered under the Civil Service Renewal Plan will greatly inform and underpin the work of Action 10 of Our Public Service 2020 led by the Defence Force’s Chief of Staff, Vice-Admiral Mellett, and Maurice Quinn, Secretary General of the Department of Defence.



I am looking forward to hearing back on the proceedings from this morning.


Events like today provide enormous opportunities for problem solving, learning from one another and crucially spreading ideas.


Innovation in public services is becoming an increasingly important discipline as a means of effectively meeting new challenges.


Our world is becoming more globalised, presenting challenges tand opportunities, while at the same time citizens’ expectations are growing.


Technology has made the world smaller, and many of our service-users are increasingly sophisticated.


The future of the world of work will undoubtedly be different; but that in of itself is not something we should fear.

One thing I can guarantee you, as both Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, as well as Minister for Finance, is that there is no shortage of demands on the State to provide services to our public.


The role of the public servant will not disappear but it will definitely transform.


Let us be the vanguards of that transformation through our own creativity, diligence and commitment to public service values that motivate us on a daily basis.


I would like to thank Robert Watt and his Department for organising this event.


I also want to thank Lucy Fallon-Byrne and the reform team for their work – and indeed all public service organisations that play a role in delivering and innovating for our public.


I wish you a successful and fruitful conference.


Thank you.