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A note for our readers: the views reflected by the authors do not reflect the views of ASPA.
By Marvin Pichla
One of the March topics for PA Times online is “The History of ASPA – Reflections of 75 Years of Service.” I am proud to proclaim that I have been a member of the American Society for Public Administration (ASPA) for over 25 years and have had the opportunity to attend several national and state-level conferences. These interactive opportunities not only allowed me to research my passion for innovation in the public sector, but to also present workshop sessions on this topic. Without question every innovation training, example-based learning conference occasion was enthusiastic, interactive and purposeful, but somehow always left me with a sense of being “incomplete.” It was during these times that I began to realize that public sector innovation is always centered on a one-time event or project. This phenomenon revised my public service passion and evolved my learning discussions into a strategic need for entrepreneurship in the public sector. Let me explain.
If you first research the definition of “entrepreneurship,” you will find something that might say, “Entrepreneurship is the process of identifying and starting a business venture, sourcing and organizing the required resources associated with the venture.” Isn’t it ironic that there rarely seems to be any suggestion or connection with the public sector? By definition, it would appear that the private sector owns all areas of being entrepreneurial. This would include start-up considerations, funding, customer identification, technology and getting the most out of every dollar. But wait, shouldn’t every public sector employee or administrator be concerned about these same issues as it applies to their programs and service initiatives?
As all ASPA members look toward the next 75 years, I believe it is critical to begin creating a public sector entrepreneurship “culture.” A culture that includes government employees, teachers, board members, college professors, elected officials and maybe more. The public sector entrepreneurship culture’s philosophy must include an “always a better way” mindset and thereby would not just focus on best practices and single project innovations. Instead it would support an entrepreneurial organizational structure and leadership methodology at all levels. Likewise, public sector entrepreneurism would need to become an all-day, everyday mode of conduct and service delivery. It is important at this time to note that I am not suggesting that entrepreneurism and innovation are not alive and well in the public sector. However, is it identified, highlighted, discussed and taught? There are hundreds of courses dealing with every aspect of private sector entrepreneurship. But in my 25 years as an ASPA member, I have not encountered a curriculum exclusively dedicated to the study and development of entrepreneurism in the public sector.
I believe one of the first critical aspects of building a public sector entrepreneurship culture and curriculum would be learning from a list of diverse and lengthy innovative public project examples. Today I believe we live in a “show me” world. By this, I mean that in order to teach and learn public sector entrepreneurship, the instruction package would have to contain a wide variety of creative public sector service examples. Interestingly the service examples would not need the label of a “best practice” nor have a long-term history of operational success. Instead the examples would most importantly have to reflect the staff/organizations intent to find a better (program/service) way. An analogy for developing a 21st century public sector entrepreneurism mindset would be to instill an “I’ll find an app for that” (i.e. a new public service need) attitude among front-line staff, managers, directors and board members. Here’s an example.
Public/private nonprofit organizations are always in the market for low-cost, high impact staff fringe benefits. How about creating a special, in-house staff development credential as an option? What if agency leaders announced the introduction of an intrapreneurship credential? The credential could be modeled after an “industrial patent” that is often provided to innovative private sector engineers and could be called a public entrepreneruship patent (PEP)! Diverse, potential PEP categories could include but not be limited to: (A) community development, (B) organizational development, (C) workforce development, (D) education development, (E) business development and (F) environmental development.
The PEP credential would be a non-traditional development opportunity for staff to “think outside the box.” As a fringe benefit it would constructively allow staff time away from regular duties for:
- X hours of service innovation research/review/reading.
- X hours of service innovation, mentoring from a reputable colleague.
- X hours of “I’ve Found a Better Way!” public sector service program development.
The ultimate result of this unique staff development option would be the award of a public entrepreneurship patent for their concept. Remember the “size” or impact of the intrapreneurship concept would not be the most important point. Instead it would be an agency status gain for supporting an innovative or entrepreneurial culture and the opportunity for staff to supportively share their ideas and dreams of making the public service system better.
As you can see, the development possibilities are almost endless. However, embracing a culture of public sector entrepreneurship requires one to first ponder the following:
- Being “different” (entrepreneurial) is cool…today.
- Entrepreneurs look at rules and regulations and see what is not there.
- Entrepreneurship is rarely about the money.
- Unnatural partnerships are often the core for entrepreneurial options.
- Always expect the unexpected and allow yourself to measure differently.
- Real entrepreneurship always proves to be the harder road to take.
- Blending financial and/or non-financial resources offers an entrepreneurial edge.
- When in the “entrepreneurial-zone,” size does not matter.
- Deep entrepreneurship often causes progressive professional discomfort.
It is Jim Collins, author of Good to Great, who makes the best case for a strong public sector entrepreneurship culture:
“Those who turn companies/organizations from GOOD-TO-GREAT, are motivated by a deep creative urge and an inner compulsion for sheer, unadulterated excellence for ITS OWN SAKE!
Those who build and perpetuate mediocrity in contrast, are motivated more by the fear of being left behind.”
Author: Marvin N. Pichla, Ph.D. is the director of Thumb Area Community of Commerce and principle of Inspiring Innovations, LLC. He can be reached at [email protected].