3 Ways to Teach People in a Bureaucracy how to Experiment – Keynote from Bryan Sivak

This morning Bryan Sivak, HHS CTO shared the importance of technology in improving health care. In his talk, Bryan discussed how HHS Open Government is spurring healthcare innovation through challenges, open data, and intrapreneurship and shared his vision for the future of health technology.

Bryan Sivak joined the Department of Health and Human Services as the Chief Technology Officer in July 2011. In this role, he is responsible for helping HHS leadership harness the power of data, technology, and innovation to improve the health and welfare of the nation. “I have worked with some of the most dedicated, smartest and brightest people who often are prevented from being innovative for multiple reasons,” said Sivak.

He also reminded the audience that quite often, technology is a catalyst and enabler for innovation, but rarely the solution. Technology simply cannot be dropped in to fix everything. Culture, process and vision must all be addressed to transform agencies – technology is often the easiest part.

For the past few years Sivak’s team has been leading the charge, spear heading the use of data at HHS. Sivak shared some insight from his experience, which I have bulleted below. You can also check out my story on Storify here as well.

  • The US has massive challenges in terms of healthcare, not an argument if it’s broken but how to fix it, and the status quo is just not going to work
  • Found the need to create a structure where failure is ok, and learn and grow from experiences
  • People need breathing room and a space to innovate
  • Sivak refers to himself as a “risk aggregator “– helping people take risks, and provide some help to people accomplish the things they need to do

3 Ways to Teach People in a Bureaucracy how to Experiment from Bryan Sivak:

  1. Actions and methods operate openly and transparently: let everyone know what we are doing at all times
  2. Remind people their job is to enable others to succeed
  3. Develop an organizational belief that there is a solution to every problem “It’s really easy for people to say no, it’s a lot harder to say yes. But, I haven’t run into a problem that we haven’t been able to solve,” said Sivak.

More on Brian Sivak below:

Previously, Bryan served as the Chief Innovation Officer to Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, where he has led Maryland’s efforts to embed concepts of innovation into the DNA of state government. He has distinguished himself in this role as someone who can work creatively across a large government organization to identify and implement the best opportunities for improving the way the government works.

Prior to his time with Governor O’Malley, Bryan served as Chief Technology Officer for the District of Columbia, where he created a technology infrastructure that enhanced communication between the District’s residents and their government, and implemented organizational reforms that improved efficiency, program controls, and customer service. Bryan previously worked in the private sector, co-founding InQuira, Inc., a multi-national software company, in 2002, and Electric Knowledge LLC, which provided one of the world’s first Natural Language Search engines available on the web in 1998.

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Samantha Holquist

He provides really great insight into how to solve problems through experimentation in a bureaucracy; however, I wonder how easy it would be right now to alter the government mindset from no we can’t solve problem to yes we can solve problems. I feel like with budget cuts right now, everyone feels like they need to be successful and often experiments can fail.