Amidst immense global and societal change, it is clear that citizens around the world are expecting more from their governments. Never has this increased expectation been more clear than in the wake of the Ebola crisis. Healthcare professionals, lay citizens, and politicians alike are all raising serious concerns about public healthcare systems and their perceived inefficiencies.
In the face of the global Ebola outbreak, it has become obvious that public health agencies tasked with providing guidelines that protect both healthcare workers and the general public are in desperate need of becoming more efficient and effective.
Dr. Dean M. Schroeder and Dr. Alan G. Robinson, authors of The Idea-Driven Organization, claim there is a direct path government officials can take to accomplish their goals and more effectively navigate situations like the Ebola crisis in the future. According to Dr. Schroeder, the “key to navigating crises like this is leveraging the expertise and ideas of frontline employees.” The many failures of government agencies in handling the Ebola outbreak have highlighted the need to implement better systems. According to Dr. Robinson, “Had the CDC and other organizations put in an idea-driven system two years ago, they would be a lot higher performing and more equipped to address this crisis.”
“Frontline employees—people who are on the ground working with patients–are a huge untapped resource available to our political and governmental leaders,” asserts Dr. Robinson.
“Harnessing frontline workers is one of the most crucial tools we need to correct inefficiencies and prepare to better address health crises like this in the future. We cannot keep things as they are,” adds Dr. Schroeder.
The concept of being “idea-driven” and being able to implement ideas from the front lines of government agencies is both practical and powerful. The framework is founded on the 80/20 principle of improvement. This concept, developed by Dr. Schroeder and Dr. Robinson, asserts that eighty percent of an organization’s potential for improvement lies in front-line ideas. “Organization which are not set up to listen to and act on front-line ideas are using only a fifth of their improvement engines” the consultants maintain.
Dr. Schroeder and Dr. Robinson’s idea-driven framework has significantly aided government agencies in the past. The Swedish Tax Agency in Gothenburg, for example, has radically improved productivity by being idea-driven, so much so that agencies across that country have adopted the changes.
By gathering ideas for improvement directly from staff members, The Swedish Tax Agency in Gothenburg was able to drastically improve the effectiveness of the 3 hours of “self-study” time each staffer was given each week. This time was set aside to allow each staff member to read up on new rules and regulations yet was largely unstructured. In response to the inefficiency witnessed first-hand, one staff member proposed a group and topic-based structure that revitalized the process and allowed for important learning to take place. This practice is now used throughout Sweden.
The Katerinholm Municipality in Sweden also underwent hugely beneficial transformations thanks to adopting an idea-driven framework. Realizing that one department often makes a policy or procedural change without notifying other departments, the Katerinholm Municipality employees created a calendar system that was crucial to improving cross-departmental communication and awareness.
Dr. Schroeder and Dr. Robinson’s idea-driven framework has already proven to have measurable success in the medical field. By gathering and implementing ideas from frontline employees, Health New England, a health insurance provider, significantly improved the efficiency of their communication practices. One simple change to the phone log suggested by an employee resulted in saving 5 hours per day.
This type of reform is crucial for organizations trying to amend their shortcomings. As Ebola illustrated with respect to public health agencies, many government activities are in need of being recalibrated. ”This crisis revealed to a lot of people that government agencies simply cannot afford to continue on in the same manner,” commented Dr. Robinson, “As a whole, government agencies must stop speculating and begin to dig deep for ideas from staff members on the ground—ideas that could save time and money and improve responsiveness in the future.”