Why is it Harder to Create a Culture of Innovation in the Emergency Services?

Generating sound ideas that are a right fit for implementation into any public sector service is challenging; executing them is even harder –– nowhere more so than in the emergency services. 

Blue Light organisations share common goals, but these public-facing institutions always have to factor in numerous risks when trying to achieve them – particularly because they deal with life and death situations for which the state is ultimately accountable. Those risks are, in turn, mitigated in a way that considers government policies and agendas, laws, budgets and the expectations of the general public. Each new idea must therefore be reviewed through various lenses before it becomes part of everyday processes. Here, we define what a culture of innovation is and why it may be harder to establish within the emergency services. 

What is a culture of innovation?

Culture refers to a shared set of beliefs, principles, practices, and values. Leading an organisation-wide culture of innovation begins with a holistic understanding of each team member’s individual talents and innovative potential. It requires an inclusive and nurturing approach, where employees are incentivised to participate actively towards collective success and betterment.

Organisations that value and reward innovation, encourage and enable creative problem-solving. Change is embraced, rather than resisted. Above all, a culture of innovation is team-centric. 

Leadership plays a critical role in implementing policy that engenders inclusivity and innovation. There are a number of practical strategies leadership can utilise, but if the ethos of inclusivity and innovation does not exist within leadership structures, it will not permeate the organisation. It is one thing to acknowledge the value of a culture of innovation; it is another to lead it.

Culture of innovation within the emergency services: influencing factors

The emergency services are bound primarily by a single overarching responsibility, which is to be the first response to emergency situations. While this remains the priority, the sector has to also manage a host of diverse challenges daily. 

Staff retention

According to an ongoing study conducted by the University of Surrey, staff retention is recognised as a challenge of paramount significance to the NHS. The impact of high staffing turnover and vacancies is profound, expensive, and far-reaching. There are many reasons for the staff attrition rates plaguing the emergency services, including occupational hazards and the resulting burnout. 

Budget uncertainty

Budget cuts are another challenge common to the emergency services. Fire and rescue services in the UK have seen funding reduced by 13.8% - a budget cut of £139.7m - over a five year period, according to a report by the Fire Brigades Union (FBU). This comes at a time when the fire and rescue must add Covid-19 to its mounting list of perils, such as wildfires and floods associated with climate change. Diminished funding places massive strain on the emergency services sector.  

Digital transformation and cyberthreats

As the world migrates ever more to the digital space, so, too, must the emergency services. Digitisation of the sector comes with obvious advantages, which include vastly improved communications and response times, cross-field integration, and the aid of artificial intelligence (AI). Cybercrime, however, is at an all-time high, and the threat is only on the rise – almost one in five breaches in 2019 involved public sector organisations, with the NHS and the Police being top targets. When deciding to adopt new technologies, the emergency services sector must take extra precautions to avoid exploitation and exposure to threats; this can result in slow integration or limitations around innovation that factors in digital capabilities. 

Continuous effects of the pandemic

While vaccination, treatment and prevention provide hope for a return to normal, Covid-19 will continue affecting our daily lives, prompting emergency service workforces to operate at capacity. In Scotland, for example, the NHS is set to acquire support from the military to help ease the pressure on the ambulance service. As with all respiratory illnesses, coronavirus will become a more significant problem in the winter months, once again increasing stress on emergency services. 

The pandemic has had an impact on crime, too. While theft, sexual offences and violence against persons went down, drug offences increased by 13%, perhaps signalling a shift in focus for emergency services in this area. 

Conclusion

Leaders face the challenge of making effective and impactful changes but never veering on the side of radical. With this in mind, it’s important to note that the Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated innovation out of necessity. Our servicemen and women were required to perform the extraordinary, highlighting the need for not only preparedness for future similar scenarios but also a more receptive, consistent, and dynamic approach to innovation within these institutions. Leading a culture of innovation in these testing and precarious times has never been more relevant.   

How SimplyDo can help you to lead a culture of innovation 

SimplyDo understands the challenges facing the emergency services and specialises in developing actionable strategies towards innovation and inclusivity. We are dedicated to helping organisations achieve measurable outcomes through effective communication, collaboration, and creative problem-solving. 

Our eBook, Leading a Culture of Innovation in the Emergency Services, takes this discussion to the next level. Click to download your free copy. 

John Barker
Associate Director of Partnership Development