Blog Post

November 13, 2023

Innovation in Defence: Insights into fostering an innovation mindset

Recently, our team at PUBLIC were delighted to be invited to speak at the inaugural Innovation Festival hosted by Defence Equipment & Support at the UK Ministry of Defence. Through our Innovation in Defence Training Programme, PUBLIC has offered the skills and capabilities to drive public sector innovation to MoD staff, embedding inclusive and collaborative practices and embracing new technologies to tackle the rapidly evolving challenges of today and tomorrow. With this highly successful programme led by our Director of Learning and Workforce Transformation, Elina Lam-Gall, she was invited to join Dr Ali Hawks (BMNT), Paul Keating-Brown (Force Development Service) and Caroline Cooper (UK Space Command) to discuss how we can create, implement and maintain an innovation mindset.

Learning and innovating the way public sector organisations work is central to unlocking change, creating sustainable and resilient progress through knowledge, behaviours and cultural change. With that in mind, the panel explored: the ingredients for an innovation mindset, and what the MOD can do now to foster and embrace them; how to create willingness and capability for innovation by incentivising and enabling not only the individual, but the system itself; and the ways to move away from needing change to come from a maverick and to create an environment where everyone has a voice.

A huge thank you to the MoD, DE&S, and our event partner Whitespace for the exceptional opportunity to drive innovation in defence at the Innovation Festival.

Here are some of our key takeaways from the discussion:

Coalition of the willing to lead the way: how to make innovation scalable

Innovation must be for everyone if we are to embrace the opportunities offered by emerging technologies and design, but it might look different depending on where your work sits within the end-to-end innovation journey, and the focus of your role. For some, whose work is discovery driven, 'innovation' might mean unpacking the problems that need to be solved, then ideating, testing and iterating solutions. For others, whose work is delivery focused, innovation might look like a smarter and faster way to get a new technology into the hands of end users, and making sure they're equipped and trained to use it effectively. What is important is identifying which areas of this ambidextrous organisation have the space to fail, and those which don’t. By trying to understand where the most practical places are to foster innovation, and what the pathways are to get to those people, you reduce the burden on innovation mavericks, making innovation truly impactful and scalable.

"When we think about Defence and innovation we need business-as-usual and business executors, but also a pathway for those who want to drive change...Shifting MoD’s mindset involves being pragmatic about business-as-usual delivery, whilst creating pathways for those who want to be able to transform and fail fast." - Dr Ali Hawks

Grassroots innovation & the importance of psychological safety

Psychological safety helps to separate failure from being assimilated to a lack of progress, and means that ideation is able to occur at all levels across Defence. By embracing failure and allowing people to use unsuccessful sprints as learning journeys, you minimise the risk of learned hopelessness, which all too often turns ‘talent’ into ‘average’. One way this could be achieved is by adjusting reporting measures to embrace ideation and change, which would not only allow but actively encourage individuals to take risks.

Start with the team to de-risk investment in innovative solutions.

Instead of looking just at the return on monetary investment potential when evaluating an idea, think about ‘does this idea have the right team and skills behind it to make it a success?’. Start with one team who you up-skill and educate to bring about organic growth. Through allyship and career pathways these lessons can be shared and scaled. It is easier to secure buy-in from senior stakeholders once progress as a result of innovation can be demonstrated: the investment in these solutions will have been de-risked.

If you want to learn how you can develop your own innovation mindset, applications are still open for our ‘Innovation in Practice’ and ‘Strategic Innovation’ courses with the MoD launching in 2024. You can apply here:

Still have questions? Join our online Information Session on Wednesday 15 November:

Still have questions? Join our online Information Session on Wednesday 15 November:

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Elina Lam-Gall

Former Team Member

Photo by the author

Lucinda Angus

Senior Associate

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