In case you missed it, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) has brought a piece of Silicon Valley’s high-tech entrepreneurial spirit to Washington in the form of a new and exciting Innovation Lab.
Since launching in March 2012, the Lab has been successfully utilized by employees from dozens of federal agencies ranging from NASA rocket scientists to the FDA’s Battery Working Group, according to OPM officials.
“The LAB @ OPM is both a practice and space which supports a growing government-wide community of innovators,” says OPM. “The Lab has hosted over 1,000 Federal employees from more than 50 Federal agencies” thus far.
(Pictured Above: OPM Innovation Lab. Photo courtesy of OPM)
From Buzzword to Mantra
The term “innovation” is no longer just the latest buzzword in government, but the new mantra for the public sector workforce. Although there’s no shortage of talk about all the benefits of innovation – as well as some good examples featured here on GovLoop -- the larger question is this:
The answer appears to be yes and no.
Despite OPM’s laudable initiative, there is still a paucity of action toward transforming the entrenched bureaucratic culture of yesteryear into a modern innovation-based work model on a systemic level. One key reason why is because old work habits die hard within government.
This is especially true considering that many “old-school” managers are change resistant by nature and remain intransigent about maintaining the status quo at all costs – even if it proves detrimental to much needed improvements across government.
To its credit, OPM has taken the lead in trying to bridge this disconnect between old and new ways of working. However, more senior executive leadership is needed from every corner of the public sector workforce to make an innovation-based work culture a reality.
Again, transforming an antiquated bureaucratic work environment does not come easy or happen overnight, but OPM’s Innovation Lab is a much needed step in the right direction.
“The LAB @ OPM is both a physical environment and a program that fosters creative thinking and collaboration, and enables Federal employees to test early concepts before failures become expensive and cumbersome,” OPM says.
“The Lab teaches Federal employees a new way of thinking, and a different approach to problem solving, that moves quickly from understanding problems to generating ideas and testing new solutions.”
Unequivocal Commitment Needed
OPM says one key aspect of the Innovation Lab is experimenting with “human-centered design methods to promote more productive and cross-functional collaboration, generate better ideas, and focus on the users of the things we make in government, from regulations to websites, from service experiences to internal processes.”
But more innovation in government is not just good for its own sake. It’s also beneficial for recruiting and retaining the growing demographic of Millennials who will eventually comprise the majority of the U.S. labor force.
Therefore, an unequivocal commitment to innovation by top government leaders is needed to help compete with the private sector in attracting a new generation of young people to public service.
However, this may prove problematic because most Millennials don’t hold the institution of government in high esteem. This is evidenced by numerous national public opinion polls of Generation Y.
The Future is Now
Hopefully, more forward-thinking federal agencies will not only leverage the unique resources made possible through OPM’s Innovation Lab, but also consider creating internal innovation labs of their own.
This is of utmost importance because the future is now when it comes to bolstering innovation in government at all levels.
Moreover, there’s little time to waste due to the increasing need for government to keep pace with new and evolving mobile, digital and virtual technologies which are advancing a light speed.
OPM has set an excellent example of what needs to be done. Now it’s up to all government agencies to grab the proverbial bull by the horns and march lockstep into the 21st century world of innovation.
Both the government and the public we serve will invariably be better off for it.
*** NOTE: All views and opinions are those of the author only and not official statements or endorsements of any public or private sector employer, organization or related entity.
David Grinberg is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.