The Government Innovation Manifesto

The Government Innovation Manifesto
Version 0.9, 30 October 2017

Dave Moskovitz and Brenda Wallace

  1. Government innovators are everywhere
    1. Government innovation does not need to come from within government – ordinary citizens, businesses, community sector organisations and others contribute to improving government.
    2. Anyone can innovate.
    3. We don’t need permission to innovate.
    4. Nobody owns government innovation.
    5. We all benefit by sharing openly and freely.
    6. Progress is iterative and diverse, and requires sustained effort.
  2. We innovate to improve our society
    1. As government innovators, we serve the public, and we will constantly look for ways to make life better for people.
    2. We live in a dynamic world. Our changing environment and technology mean that we can’t stand still. These changes bring opportunities and risks but sometimes it’s irresponsible to not act.
    3. Government innovators seek to make government interactions better, easier, cheaper, faster, fairer, clearer, simpler, more available, more useful, and more joyful.
    4. Good government innovation benefits everyone, and can positively impact the things we care about most.
    5. Empathy should be at the heart of what we do. Every person matters.
  3. Innovation is a team sport
    1. We cooperate and collaborate.
    2. Diversity is strength. We include people who aren’t like us in our work.
    3. The most important people to include are the people affected by our work, especially the community we serve.
    4. We listen more than we talk, we are not judgemental, we are respectful.
    5. We recognise our own values, and how they affect our perspective.
    6. We base decisions on data and experiments.
    7. We practice frank and friendly communication.
    8. We enable others to succeed.
    9. We seek and build on the research and work of those before us.
    10. We seek peer review where appropriate.
    11. We give credit where credit is due.
    12. We work across disciplines, agencies, sectors and jurisdictions, not in isolation.
    13. Together, we form a community. Let’s support and look after each other.
  4. There are rules
    1. The rules are usually there for a reason.
    2. We don’t break any laws[1] or regulations.
    3. We try to work within existing policy, and where it is deficient, we work to change it in a constructive way.
    4. “We’ve always done it that way” isn’t a rule. That’s a habit. We can break habits.
    5. When we find rules that are contrary to the intended outcome, we will work constructively to change them.
  5. Innovation is risky
    1. At its heart, innovation involves dealing with the unknown and being comfortable with some risk.
    2. Some things will work, and others won’t. If everything we try works, we might not be trying hard enough. Know when to persevere, when to pivot, and when to pull out.
    3. Sometimes failure is success. We won’t waste opportunities to learn from experiments that did not produce the expected results. We share our learnings openly. The next team can learn plenty from these, and we’ll be reducing big-picture systemic risk.
    4. Ironically, it’s often riskier to not take any risks. Short-term wins can be long-term losses so risk needs to be balanced against opportunities, costs and benefits.
    5. It’s important to manage risk pragmatically. We need to ensure that the costs of mitigation are in proportion to the risk.
  6. Innovation is hard
    1. By default, “The System” is often reluctant and resistant to change.
    2. We work positively and constructively, and bring others along with us on the journey. Getting the resources to change a system that does not want to change can be seen as biting the hand that feeds you. We want to make sure people understand why we’re doing what we’re doing, and what the benefits are.
    3. Assume ideas are not original, and have been done before. We learn what we can about previous efforts.
    4. Pushing boundaries, taking risks, and pulling people out of their comfort zones to improve our government and society can be draining. We seek support before we need it, prepared with a good pitch about the benefits of our endeavours.
    5. Assume good faith. We support each other, even when we don’t agree with the specifics. We’re all innovating for the right reasons, to improve our society. We treat each other kindly and with respect.
    6. Pay it forward. Generosity creates a virtuous cycle in which creativity and innovation are much easier. A lot of little things add up to big things.
    7. We try not to make our jobs easier or lower costs at the expense of others, being mindful of externalities – this is especially true of compliance burden and other side effects of our actions. We work to solve, remediate, and mitigate, not merely to shift the problem.
  7. We are change agents. We will use our powers wisely, and always aim to make a positive difference.

This document draws on many sources, including the Agile Manifesto, the Lean Startup Methodology, and others, along with the common sense that we learned from our parents and ancestors. We stand on the shoulders of giants.

If you would like to provide feedback, comments, or suggestions for changes, please feel free to do so in the Google Docs version.

We’ll be holding a workshop in Wellington on 7 December 2017 at 5pm (RSVP) to discuss improvements to and application of this Manifesto.

The Government Innovation Manifesto is released under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license. Feel free to share it, with attribution to Dave Moskovitz and Brenda Wallace pointing to – Thanks!
Creative Commons License


[1] Consider the following in the New Zealand context: Bill of Rights Act, Human Rights Act, Privacy Act, Official Information Act, Te Tiriti o Waitangi / The Treaty of Waitangi … there are others specific to your domain. Go and learn them.