Public Sector Finance Professionals Seek ‘Radical Future’

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Peter Uzoho

The public sector image as a place where little or no innovation happens has been challenged in a report by the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) titled: “Innovation in Public Finance.” 

The report obtained at the weekend, showed that public sector finance professionals were seeking for a ‘radical future’ in the face of challenges lying ahead. 

The report revealed that 91 per cent of public sector professionals who were respondents in the survey, said some kind of innovation was happening in their organisations, with slightly less (10 per cent), as against 90 per cent that said it was happening in the private sector.

It stated that some 4,436 ACCA members across 142 countries took part in the survey, with online panel discussions with 89 members across 32 countries. 

According to the report, the level of innovation was measured across three areas: people-based, data and technology, and process innovation, with the report aiming to investigate what kind of innovations were taking place in public finance, while also looking ahead to future challenges. 

It stated that the respondents’ insights revealed a public sector that was innovating incrementally and that governments needed to embrace more radical forms of innovation.

Commenting on the report, a public sector expert at ACCA and author of the report, Alex Metcalfe, said the findings showed that innovation in the public sector was broadly incremental, and not radical or transformative innovation. 

“But with considerable challenges facing the public sector – from budget reductions to talent shortages – our respondents said a more radical approach is needed in the future. 

“Their clear message is that governments need to shift from the current dominance of incremental innovation to more radical reforms,” Metcalfe said. 

Also commenting, Matthew Taylor, Chief Executive of the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce, (RSA), Mathew Taylor, said: “This report dispels the lazy myth that the public sector is averse to innovation. 

“The future is unpredictable. Leaders – whether of nations or cities – need to be able to experiment and adapt. At the RSA, we advocate ‘thinking like a system and acting like an entrepreneur’. 

“Change can come from anywhere in a system, but transformation means the ability continuously to experiment and adapt”.

Taylor added: “We need leaders whose understanding of our challenges and whose determination to make a difference is such that they will openly embark on a journey without knowing where it will end. 

“Any leader who claims to be doing this without often feeling disorientated and vulnerable is deluding themselves. 

“Ultimately, however, as many of those who responded to the ACCA’s survey recognised, aiming for transformation may be less risky than hoping it can be avoided.”

However, the report in its top three findings, made some recommendations for change which included: Public finance professionals believe that governments need to shift from the current dominance of incremental innovation to more radical forms of innovation.

This meant that policymakers and public sector leaders should share a vision and strategic direction, allowing staff to understand how the organisation can proactively address the complex challenges it faces.

“That the finance function has a critical role to play in the wider public sector innovation process. Public finance professionals should apply the concepts of integrated thinking and value creation through multiple forms of ‘capital’ to help in the construction and assessment of business cases for innovation.

“That it is through the power of connections that public finance functions will be able to realise fully the desired shift to more radical forms of innovation.

“Public finance professionals should work with finance business partners to connect across the organisation and help shape a culture of innovation,” it added.