In business, innovation is distinct from invention; while the latter covers new ideas or concepts, innovation produces higher revenues and/or profi ts. In the public services, innovation stands for greater effi ciency or effectiveness; that also applies to diplomatic tasks. Canada lists innovation among its four mission objectives for Canada International (i.e. the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade). The British FCO abolished its Policy Planning Department in 2002 and created a directorate for “Strategy and Innovation”.

At the MFA, innovation entails the following:

  • Networking with domestic ministerial and non offi cial partners, often in unconventional ways, for example harnessing NGO personnel, “in” and “out” personnel exchanges.
  • Creating a learning organization, one that welcomes new ideas, involving “young turks” in system issues, integrating them with the experienced.
  • Flexible response, adaptable mind-sets.
  • Calibrated human resource policy, locating the best for the critical jobs.
  • “Zero base” budgeting, and use of “challenge funds” to foster competitive spirit and emulation.
  • Using the internet as a vehicle for outreach, at headquarters and through the embassies, using new methods.

At the embassy it includes

  • Envoys geared to “public affairs entrepreneurship,” willing to undertake measured risk in pursuit of clear goals.
  • Open styles, use of informal local networks and advisory groups.
  • Using thematic, cross-functional teams, putting aside hierarchies.
  • Inculcating breadth of subject awareness, plus ability to find cross-connections between issues.
  • Working outside the circuit of privileged partners in the capital, extending activities to provincial administrations, regions, and cities.
  • Harnessing ethnic communities, returned students, and other affi nity clusters.

Practical Innovation

  • In 2005, the German Embassy in New Delhi created an internet-based “Science Forum” that takes advantage of past and existing S&T cooperation, and the presence in India of a large number of holders of Humboldt and other distinguished fellowships, for generating ideas on expanding mutual cooperation.
  • In 2004, the Danish Embassy in Israel created 10 functional teams, cutting across ranks, to pursue priority subjects.
  • Many countries hold annual or biennial conferences of all their envoys posted abroad (some also hold smaller conferences of ambassadors in particular regions). Such conferences are a vehicle for organizational communication. Indirectly producing experience-sharing and reform generation, they are an annual feature in some large services (China, Japan, Germany, Thailand; UK held its firstever conference of all ambassadors in January 2002, as part of its reform process; India held its fi rst in December 2008). A few small networks seldom use this device, but hold episodic gatherings in regional clusters. Despite the cost, the conferences are worthwhile, especially when held in the home capital, with careful planning and follow-up.
  • Singapore invites its honorary consuls to a conference in Singapore every fi ve or six years, to show the importance attached to their voluntary work, and to give them insight into Singapore’s worldview; in 2010 Kenya joined the rather few countries that do the same. Malta is to run training programs for its honorary consuls.

Innovation can be facilitated but not ordered. Systems that permit easy, fl at internal communication and seek out ideas from the shop floor are the winners.


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