8 Ideas on Innovation Toolkit – Presidential Innovation Fellows

Last year, I wrote my thoughts on a number of the Presidential Innovation Fellowship projects. Personally they were fun to write and I heard back from a number of fellows that they were helpful.

So year 2 is here & I thought I’d write my thoughts on a few of the projects.

Up first – “Innovation Toolkit”– Generally the taks is developing an innovation toolkit that empowers our Federal workforce to respond to national priorities more quickly and more efficiently.

Specifically, it has been written up in a few places that the focus is on how to harness the energy of government employees towards helping each other on projects through items like microtasking.

A lot of the work we’ve done at GovLoop has been around collaboration so here’s my ideas based on GovLoop:

1) Don’t Manage by Committee – Social software is hard to build. All good products win because they focus and don’t do everything (look at Instagram which took awhile to get to Android, Google search home page is still super simple, Twitter has simplified what it does). People mean well and often share new ideas for features that can be hard to turn down (especially in gov’t where success isn’t necessarily measure by great products with lots of traction but completed projects). Great products are known by what they didn’t include (more features isn’t a good thing). Hire one great product managers who makes decisions

2) It’s all about # of users – Gov’t projects often focus on pats on back about being completed. Instead, success should be simple – how many users does this system have, how active are they, and how many projects are being completed. The roll-out should focus on growth hacking – how do we get lots of users and where are they currently (Can we promote to SAVE award submission folks? Get people to opt-in when signing up for MAX? Can we create a sign-up page like Mailbox and get people to sign up before it starts? How can we market and do outreach to influencers? ) Optimize and test around that – any application in the innovation toolkit is only as useful as # of folks using it

3) Focus on email – The key to any micro volunteering site is great reminders for folks to engage. People don’t wake up in the morning thinking I have 15 minutes what should I do. Instead, email needs to come into the inbox and ask for help. Since it’s an internal system, I wouldn’t worry about Facebook/Twitter shares as it may be sensitive info – just make great email. Instead I’d optimize the email – test various title approach, test personal approaches/calls to action, test the “From” address. It may be counter-intuitive but most social software relies heavily on email (LinkedIn sends you updates when you are endorsed and weekly list of people changing jobs, Quora sends a top questions email, even Twitter sends out emails weekly) – we’ve found on GovLoop email is key to driving engagement.

4) Create Thank Yous – I always get a little happy when someone likes my Facebook post or upvotes my Quora answer or awesomes me on GovLoop or reblogs me on Tumblr. At the basic, you are sent a reminder via email which lets you know something is going on. And more importantly, people are happy to help but you have to give them something back – make it easy to send a Thank You or Like or Heart back (or whatever your form may be)

5) Curate – In the end, this is a marketplace. The beginning of any marketplace sets the stage for how it will evolve. So at the beginning, it is super important to recruit amazing people & the right projects. If they are lame projects, good people won’t come back. And if you have cool projects but get lame ideas, projects won’t come back. It’s key to vet at the beginning all projects & people so high quality. Personally, I’d vet projects for awhile like Kickstarter (which turns a lot of projects down) and institute an invite-only process for new members with a waitlist to ensure getting the right people (perhaps each new member can invite 3 friends)

6) Start small – Don’t focus on doing everything at first. Narrow the focus on what kinds of projects. Narrow the focus on what features offer. The biggest issue is not tech but user behavior. Perhaps you can test the project without even building software – just test getting a sample projects and emailing 15 friends for help on it. How many responded? How long did it take for a response? How good were the answers? Try it again with another project and different friends – what format worked? what outreach mechanisms worked? what is the best way to send questions? Test, test some more, and do more of what’s working.

7) Think about Anonymity – Anonymous vs non-anonymous is always a debate. However, I’ve found that often people are shy and don’t want to put themselves out there (for example, I can imagine someone thinking – what if my boss sees I don’t know how to do my project). One specific example – in an online training, we average 20+ questions per training (questions are anonymous) which is more than our average # on GL discussion board. In another example, I like Quora’s approach where you have to log in and have a user ID but can choose to post as Anonymous if you want. I’ve seen a ton of great answers “anonymous” in Quora versus other sites that have anonymous because they’ve created a culture where anonymity is used for safety (not for trolling)

8) Make it Specific – Structure and specificity is essential. We’ve found on GovLoop that people respond best to questions that are very clear in their title & have a specific ask (Help rename my Intranet – give me 1 suggestion) vs broad general help. Basically, people have to see an ask and be able to quickly understand what it is & if they can quickly help. So how do you do that? Create structure on the types of asks at the beginning. Think about specificity and encourage it in the technology (character limits of questions, can create only 3 to 4 types of questions and that be title (Info Request, Speaker Request, Document Request). The last thing you want is a wide-ranging – make it clear/simple & should be something you can do in email

There ya go – that’s 8 ideas on the innovation toolkit focused more on the microtasking element. As mentioned in the description on the toolkit, this is just one piece of a broader piece of online tools used to connect government employees towards collaboration.

I’m excited to see where the innovation toolkit can grow. Personally I see room for items like:

-Slideshare/Docstoc for Government – where you can share sensitive documents (so can find everything from sample presentations to staff to sample strategic plans to sample PRA submissions to sample RFPs)

-Clarity.fm / Office Hours / Mentoring – I love clarity.fm which is a great tool to find other entrepreneurs and set up time to talk with them on their ideas. I’ve used it to talk to many experts & I think a similar approach would work in gov’t (almost all govies would be happy to share lessons with others). Another approach around this would be office hours which we’ve implemented withohours.org in past (leaders set up time willing to help others) as well as online mentors program (which we’ve run and connected hundreds of leaders). Simply, I’ve found people still like to connect 1 on 1 and have more private intimate conversations and tools like above let them do that.

-MOOC for Government – MOOCs (such as companies Coursera and EdX) are all the rage in higher education as a way to train large amounts of people in a new format in a cost effective way. We do a lot of online training at GovLoop with audiences of 200 to 6,000 and I think with training budgets shrinking there is a way to redo online learning using a MOOC model and internal experts. What about a 10,000 person supervisory course with the best experts across globe and audience of only govies. I think there’s an opportunity to build on this concept with aCodeacademy approach where they let anyone become a course creator and then offer those courses for free online – would be amazing to tap the innovators across gov’t to teach courses

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