Blogging Series: 10 Ways Open Innovation Can Transform Your Agency

10 Ways Open Innovation Can Transform Your Agency

Starting this week, I will be doing a 10-part series on open innovation and how it can transform government agencies.

What is open innovation?

Open innovation is a phrase that was coined by Henry Chesbrough as, …the use of purposive inflows and outflows of knowledge to accelerate internal innovation, and expand the markets forexternal use of innovation, respectively.

In regards to government, I would define open innovation as the ability to tap the collective knowledge of employees and/or constituents to drive agency innovation.

Open innovation is more than just collecting and rating ideas by popularity- it’s about taking concepts and making them into real solutions. Think of open innovation as a process of growing a tree from a seed (pictured below), which is quite a daunting task. An idea from an employee and/or citizen is like a seed, but you cannot just plant it an expect it to grow on its own. It takes lots of watering, weeding and cultivating to stimulate the seed to grow into something more. The real question is who does the work? The most effective model of open innovation allows employees and/or constituents to do the legwork (watering, weeding, etc.) to grow the ideas and make them actionable.

In 2009, I deployed one of the first local government open innovation portals called Manor Labs. Manor Labs gives citizens and employees of Manor, Texas the ability to submit ideas to help make the City of Manor more efficient, transparent and cost-effective. Participants can go to a dedicated website that allows them to submit an idea for any department within the City of Manor. After submission, ideas gothrough a structured process to take the best ideas from a concept to solution.

Over the next 10-weeks I will introduce lessons learned from Manor and other agencies that have embraced open innovation as amodel in government.

The first way open innovation can transform your agency is by…

Helping Identify Problems.

Background: In most agencies I’ve worked with, problems are identified through informal channels that are not well understood or even inclusive of employees and/or citizens. With open innovation as a model, you can give employees and citizens the ability to not just identify problems, but recommend solutions for addressing the problems (which I’ll go into more next week).

How does it help? Identifying problems is the first step to solving them. Agencies have very limited resources that can be utilized to proactively identify current or potential problems. Most resources are applied in a reactionary-setting as the problem develops and escalates in severity. The ability to distribute or crowdsource the identification of problems allows them to be addressed earlier, which saves significant time and money.

What do you think?

Should citizens be allowed to help identify problems in government agencies? How does your current agency identify problems?

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Often we think of problem identification as a big “what are the biggest problems” type ideation. I like this type of problem identification which can be anything from an issue with a part of a process to an IT system used. So on a mission issue like getting people to pay parking tickets, citizens can give you feedback like “I don’t carry stamps anymore so that’s why I’m delayed in sending it to you. Or the office hours don’t fit my work schedule” which help identify that current payment options have problems.

Tim Evans

Well, certainly citizens should have this opportunity. Of course, they have had it for years via letters to agencies, or to their congresspeople.

The problem is, “identifying problems” will inevitably result in individuals’ casework inquiries (often containing PII) and general gripes about something or other. If you have ever answered public and congressional correspondence, you know you can go years between truly useful “identification of issues.”

Stephen Dixon

Dustin – Great idea for a series. Yes indeed, citizens should be given an opprtuntiy to identify problems. Often, the “problem” is the way government is structured or operates and as a result, government can’t even see that something may be a problem. We expect citizens and businesses to interact with us on our terms and that is often not uderstood by them. Of course, as you put it, there are other problems citizens and businesses can identify and help solve as well. Look forward to the discussion.

Peter Gillis

From a different perspective…I’m the Community Manager for civilian IT professionals in the Marine Corps. These people are members of disparate organizations across the world. The value of open innovation for me would be to discover hidden best practices, or raise concerns about government processes that perhaps could be improved. We’d still get the occasional “I didn’t get promoted ’cause my boss doesn’t like me” type complaints, but in the long run I think we’d see a lot of value. We’re currently exploring options for a collaborative tool in this regard.

Dustin Haisler

Peter, great perspective and I agree completely. One of the ways we discover the hidden ‘gems’ at Spigit is by not just evaluating ideas by popularity alone. There are lots of different mechanisms we use to measure (comments, page fews, reputations, etc.) and extract the best ideas. It’s amazing how much value open innovation as a model can provide on so many different fronts.

Carlos V. Roman

Excellent Steps! I believe citizen’s should have every input to government operations or at least help find problems and opportunities. These problems and opportunities can be categorized, prioritized, discussed, estimated and tracked online. You know those signs on the road that say “Your Tax Dollars At Work”? In the online world it can done pretty easily with identifying the responsible party, ensuring transparency and accountability.

Warmest Regards,

Carlos V. Roman

Janice van Reyk

We had Christian Bason of Mind Lab in Denmark visit Australia recently and his point is that involving citizens in co-creation of public policy and service delivery gives insights into and better understanding of how citizens live their lives. This is invaluable in helping to define what the real underlying problem is and therefore developing better solutions.