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But Wait, There’s More!: Part II of an Interview with Pamela Wright, CINO of NARA

Innovation is one of the many buzz words floating around federal agencies. In a recent interview, Pamela Wright (CINO of NARA) shared the innovation goals of the National Archives and explained two projects that are looking to achieve those goals.

As promised, below are three more goals, as well as descriptions two successful projects that help to transform the National Archives into a more innovative agency.

4. A Great Place to Work

One of the most common descriptions of “innovative workplaces” is that they are a great place to work. Encouragement for innovation sparks creativity and collaboration, and gives a feeling of value to those in the process. Wright says that the Office of Innovation wants “to create an environment where staff understand that they are the agency’s most vital resource and that their ideas get heard and they have avenues to explore those ideas.” A supported staff is a motivated staff, working diligently to push the agency forward with innovative ideas and solutions.

5. An Open NARA

Today, transparency activities are essential across the federal government. This means transparency between agencies and the public (sharing data, explaining decisions) but also means transparency within the organization. “That’s again working across organizational boundaries within NARA,” says Wright, “and working more openly also with the public and the agencies. We are opening up and seeking external viewpoints and solutions. We are offering stakeholders opportunities to participate with us.” Open communication is vital for efficiency and productivity.

6. A Customer-Focused Organization

“We’ve always been customer focused,” says Wright, “in fact, the mission of the agency is to preserve and provide access to the permanent records of the federal government. Providing access to our records for the public has always been one of our goals.” To meet demands of customers, making records available through web searches is not enough anymore. Agencies, especially ones like NARA with huge records holdings, need to reach out more publicly and develop more modern ways to connect to constituents.

Innovative Projects

The efforts Pamela Wright and the Office of Innovation have lead making progress in leaps and bounds. Two of her current projects highlight her efforts to support innovation in and around the agency: The Internal Collaboration Network and the Citizen Archivist Dashboard.

Internal Collaboration Network

The Internal Collaboration Network, a Jive software-based program that NARA piloted last year. Wright described the Internal Collaboration Network as a “social tool that allows staff from across the building and around the country throughout any of our organization structures to ask questions to find out what their colleagues are doing, to solve problems, to develop new ways to work with each other.” The Internal Collaboration Network includes project management software and document sharing capabilities in order to make communication and sharing across the agency (which has offices nationwide) easier and more efficient. This does not replace in-person meetings and collaboration, but it streamlines many processes when travel budgets and time restraints are tight. In a nutshell, it is the “marriage of new technology and tools with business needs to make us more efficient and change the way we do our work and the way we think of ourselves,” says Wright.

Citizen Archivist Dashboard

The second innovation project is the Citizen Archivist Dashboard. Pamela Wright and her colleagues at NARA wanted to engage the public while meeting the goals of the agencies. To do this, they wanted to provide access to records and allow the public to help tag, transcribe, upload, describe and even write articles about the documents. To streamline the project, Wright says that they “decided to put all of these projects into a dashboard that made it more accessible. That made it easier for the public to work with this. So we provided a portal to folks who just wanted to come in and do something fun with us, and all of the work related directly to our mission to provide better access.” The Citizen Archivist Dashboard was an immediate success, allowing for thousands of hand-written pages to be transcribed. This initiative has also connected citizens from all sorts of backgrounds to connect with national records on any scale they choose, making the program an extremely successful citizen engagement tool.

One last bit of advice from Pamela Wright

The above goals highlight what innovative agencies should do in order to keep moving forward. However, in tough fiscal climates with great uncertainty it is often hard to convince agency leaders to take a chance on an unfamiliar program. To remedy this, Wright suggests pilot programs:

“For anyone who is still in a culture that’s afraid of using new media tools and new social tools, my advice is to try a pilot…when we were at an impasse, we offered to simply pilot a project before going all in on a long-term effort, and we promised to take it down if anything bad happened. You can control a pilot, which gives a sense of security to those who fear trying new projects. Once people saw the pilots succeeding, they started to warm up to more long-term projects that use new media tools.”

This method of introducing a program, social media or otherwise, takes the worry of permanence and irreversibility out of the equation and allows agencies to move forward without fear of negative repercussions. It’s one of the best ways to support innovation.

What efforts is your agency or organization making to support innovation?

What barriers have you faced?

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