18F: Government Technology Through Iterative Learning

How can we avoid another HealthCare.gov technology debacle?

That question was top of mind for many people in the government after the disastrous technology rollout that accompanied President Obama’s healthcare initiative. After the technological issues that occurred, it was clearer than ever that the U.S. government needs to be better at digital services.

Now, we have 18F. The White House’s General Services Administration recently established this new department aimed at providing new tools and new technologies to work with entrepreneurs and innovators to deliver better digital services to government agencies, businesses and citizens.

To get the full scoop on what 18F is, what it’s working on, and what impact it will have, we interviewed Jackeline Stewart, GSA spokesperson about this new intiative. Read her full answers below.

Tell us a little bit about how and why 18F got started.

GSA has been working on building the 18F team for a few months. Last summer, the agency took over operational management of the Presidential Innovation Fellows program. Many PIFs stayed on at GSA to work full time on building products and working on client services. Our mission is to build and deliver services that work for the user while significantly driving down cost. By bringing the people, principles and values of the technology startup world together with the most effective people inside government, we believe we can assist agencies in better serving the American people.

What are 18F’s top 3 immediate goals?

We expect to build user-centric digital services for a fraction of the cost of procuring the same technology through traditional public sector methods.

We will build technology through iterative learning. 18F will push minimum viable products (MVP) to the user base early and often to shorten the “build, measure, learn” cycle as much as possible. During these learning cycles, we will be open and transparent about how we work, when we succeed and fail, and what we have learned from the process.

Our goal is two-fold: first, we will build user-centric digital services, and second, we will prove that building technology in an agile manner is possible in government at a wide scale.

What does the 21st century digital government look like to 18F?

In a world where technology changes the way we live and work almost every day, providing government services in a manner that the American people expect is more important than than ever before. Delivering a 21st century government meets those expectations and we have a responsibility to provide our partner agencies with state-of-the-art support.

Public sector folks leaving for private sector is always an issue. How do you make sure you get the best talent at 18F?

Talented people will be attracted to 18F’s strong mission and great work environment. The mission of 18F can compete with any other technology organization and we have built a talented and exciting team to date that contributes to our great workplace.

What projects are you currently working on?

We are partnering with agencies across government to deliver public facing services via web applications, data and service APIs, and platform services. While 18F will provide certain services to the American people through products and platforms like FBOpen and MyUSA, much of the work the delivery team will accomplish will be through working with other agencies to help deliver mission-focused web and digital services.

You say 18F is agile with the mentality of a lean startup. How can you apply agile to the federal government? What tips might you have for others in government to adopt this mentality?

Agencies should see 18F as a new way to procure, build and deliver innovative technology, digital services, and citizen-facing applications using insourced talent and applying lean startup techniques. 18F operates using three models: for you, with you, or by you. We can build your solution for you, work with your team and provide additional expertise and needed core capacity, or consult on how to build and buy user-centric interfaces most effectively.

What impact do you see 18F having had in 2-3 years?

18F is already at work at several agencies throughout government, shipping products early and often. In a year, we hope to increase the size of our team, increasing our capacity to help agencies better deliver on their missions. 18F seeks to be a successful model for procuring, building, and delivering tech and digital services and scaling that model governmentwide. In a few years, we seek to apply this model across federal government.

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