Open Innovation in Children’s Mental Health: A Call for Collective Investment in Shared Success
It’s fashionable – almost de rigueur – these days for public services to outfit themselves as innovators. A case in point: the 2018 Annual Conference of Children’s Mental Health Ontario (CMHO) advertised over fourty keynote addresses and workshops on “Innovations in Service Delivery.” That’s a lot of innovation!
In the private sector, innovation is a risky business. It’s estimated 96% of all innovations do not return their capital costs and 66% of new products fail within two years. Public sector service may realize greater success, but only if it plays to its strengths: a broad commitment to the common good and institutional norms that promote sharing and cooperation over ownership and competition.
The contest between two cultures – promoting the common good versus maximizing shareholder value – hasn’t been going well for public service or the public south of the border. In Ontario, another cycle of transferring huge amounts of wealth to for-profit corporations is underway, as the provincial government schemes to privatize health care (Toronto Star, January 9, 2019).
Public sector service will need to be smart – even scientific – as it goes about its business. The foundations of service science were laid barely a decade ago; their application in the public sector is more recent still. Alongside these developments, researchers have developed a theory of open innovation – first in manufactured goods and commercial services and later in government and not-for-profit services. Open innovation is the only way for public service to sustain itself.
A principled approach to service innovation values openness and commits to engagement, collaboration, accountability, and sustainability. Theory and research suggest that values-driven approaches to service innovation need to prevail in the public sector and supersede today’s concoctions of dirty data and paint-by-numbers analyses.
Key Performance Indicators, Strategic Dashboards, and the like will undoubtedly help us in the future. Today, children’s mental health services need to demonstrate their commitment to the values of open innovation, before it’s too late.