Interview: Marita Vandenberg, Senior Advisor - Service Innovation, Department of Internal Affairs

8 November 2019 Neb Hamoo Author avatar

Tell us about the journey to your current role and what this role entails?

I am relatively new to Government, having worked at the Ministry for Business Innovation and Employment for a year, and now in my current role at the Department of Internal Affairs for the last four. Previously I led a large national NGO and before that was a senior strategy, leadership, transformational change consultant for a number of agencies, including my own business.In my current role I am responsible for three teams: I provide secretariat support to the Service Innovation Working Group that comprises Deputy Chief Executives within the Digital Government Partnership who are responsible for the Service Innovation Work Programme which include Integrated Services or Life Events (such as SmartStart); I lead the Digital Inclusion work programme, which is a new ministerial work priority; and I lead the Service Innovation Lab, supporting agencies to work better together in the co-design (and co-delivery) of citizen-centric government services.

Can you describe a project you are working on or recently completed? What challenges did you face along the way and how were they overcome?

Establishing the Service Innovation Lab within the government context was certainly challenging. While some agencies have their own variation of an Innovation Lab and associated methodologies, there has been no all-of-government shared space, with associated service design and developer capability to wrap around support agencies as they re-design and re-imagine services that better meet the needs of citizens. We established this in a neutral space that some have nicknamed our Switzerland not owned by our agency but a place where all quickly feel at home working in.Government decision-making is usually quite slow and at times difficult to get collective (and collaborative) sign-off, with a plethora of memos and sign-outs required. However, in this case we succeeded in achieving significant support to establish the lab as a pilot, and then permission to continue to develop, and then scale to what we currently have today. Agencies not only needed to be brought along on the journey of the lab being established to support them but also to introduce new and different service design, innovation, and agile approaches and other new ways of working. Everything was new and different and when working in a government context this was always going to be a challenge. However, through good leadership, strong support and with a focus on delivery good things happened.

What did you learn from this project? What did it achieve?

We learned that one of the single most critical factors was trust. We placed huge importance on relationship-building and early engagement of everyone who might be involved in a potential piece of work. After two and a half years, we had two staff actively engaged in going out to agencies and focusing on building bridges with staff in other agencies that would get them to the lab and sharing ideas.

What excites you most about the future?

This idea of integrated services - agencies working differently together, co-designing wrap around support for citizens at significant times in their lives which we call life events is the way forward for New Zealand and other countries. Were trying something new and were succeeding.

If you could give one piece of advice to someone looking to further their career in government, what would it be?

Be brave. Create the context within which you need to succeed and just start! (and wing it till it becomes normal and valued and everyone has fully committed to the cause).

Where do you look to for further education? E.g. articles, podcasts, news sources, online courses, university etc.?

I read articles, access various on-line forums and listen to a mix of pod casts. I also enjoy reading books and have 2-3 on the go at anyone time. However, I particularly enjoy talking with and listening to other peoples stories and their success (and learnings/mistakes) so I spend a fair amount of time having a good catch-up with people over a coffee (I drink a large trim flat white if we meet up).

What are you most looking forward to at the event?

Meeting like-minded colleagues who within their own environments have been bold, brave, innovative and successful and having the opportunity to learn from them and their stories of what worked and what didnt and how I can apply that to my context and experience.

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