Gold Stars for In-House Innovators


Companies small and large talk often about the need to be more innovative, but progress without reflection misses a crucial component of cultural innovation. That is, how often do these companies reward top people and their projects?

The EPA Innovation Team has several goals: support innovative bench science in the laboratories, demonstrate the power of research that combines and crosses traditional disciplines, and broaden the network of environmental problem solvers.

However, we see one of our most important charges as creating a frictionless space for implementing great ideas. We want innovation to flourish in all corners of EPA.

This kind of push is needed in the public sector, especially when considering the U.S. Office of Personnel Management’s 2014 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey.

Only 35 percent of respondents agreed that their agencies reward creativity and innovation. That’s flat from last year and down six points from 2011.

At EPA, we want to support a dynamic work environment that rewards and recognizes creative problem solving, experimentation, and new thinking.

The PeerOvation awards in 2012 were one way the Innovation Team implemented this vision. The program highlighted innovative accomplishments and identified ways to support even greater future innovation.

We hosted an internal ideation platform where people could submit their nominations for best projects and practices and then vote on their favorites.

EPA’s Deputy Administrator provided a keynote speech for a workshop where we interspersed innovation training throughout the day. We also tapped a dozen Top Innovator teams to share lessons learned and frame the potential for their projects to scale agency-wide.

The workshop ended with breakout sessions where attendees generated “future directions”  proposals for ways to support EPA’s mission, save money, and increase work-life quality.

One of those pitches was to explore citizen science. EPA now has a cross-agency community of practice that meets monthly and feeds into larger federal efforts on the topic.

But as you’ve seen, rewarding good work is only part of a comprehensive culture of innovation.

Notice that the proposals we received for new directions didn’t die on the table. Asking employees for suggestions and subsequently ignoring those ideas remains the surest method for leadership to kill creativity and innovation in any organization.

Dustin Renwick works in conjunction with the Innovation Team in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Research and Development. The opinions expressed here are the author’s and do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

Dustin Renwick is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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Hannah Moss

Your last point about making sure organizations follow through on offers to let their employees foster ideas and spur innovation is so crucial. Thanks for the reminder! Great post. I’ve loved hearing about everything going on at EPA.