Innovation in Government – Oxymoron or Wave of the Future?

It’s that time of year again! The next two days we’ll be blogging from GovLoop and YGL’s Next Generation of Government Training Summit. Follow along @NextGenGov and read more blog posts here.

I attended a great breakout session at yesterday’s NextGen Training Summit on this topic. The audience was certainly skeptical that innovation is even possible in the government, but the presenters (see list below) dispelled this myth. Instead of giving you the details of each presentation, I thought that you would like to know about 5 trends in innovation. Here they are:

  1. Ideation Systems: It seems that by now, most agencies have some type of “ideation” system, like DOT’s IdeaHub, TSA’s IdeaFactory, or HUD’s new Switchboard system. These systems allow employees to submit ideas, which are endorsed or enhanced by their co-workers and, if they get enough votes, are addressed by management (in HUD’s case 100 votes). So far, HUD has implemented 78 new ideas.
  2. Challenges: GSA’s platform allows agencies to “crowd-source” solutions to complex problems. A monetary prize is awarded to the “winner” of this competition, which ends up saving the government research and development money. To date, over 360 challenges have been conducted for a variety of agencies. A recent example of a challenge is TSA offering a $15,000 prize for a viable proposal to speed up the screening process.
  3. Digital Delivery Systems: GSA’s 18F is a “startup” organization led by Presidential Innovation Fellows and a cutting edge digital delivery team who are “recruited from the most innovative corners of industry and the public sector, who are passionate about “hacking” bureaucracy to drive efficiency, transparency, and savings for government agencies and the American people.” This organization focuses on digital delivery of services, but is working on projects from other Federal agencies. For instance, they are working with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service to redesign and streamline their processes.
  4. Open Opportunities: GSA’s Open Opportunities initiative announces professional development opportunities (projects/tasks). Federal employees can volunteer to participate in these opportunities, developing new skills, performing engaging/rewarding work, and making a difference. So far, they have posted 186 tasks on their system, which is now open to all Federal employees.
  5. Human-Centered Design: The Lab @ OPM uses principles of “human-centered design” to help OPM and other agencies create new solutions to design challenges. The process helps people hear the needs of the people and communities they’re designing for, create innovative approaches to meet these needs, and deliver solutions that work in specific cultural and economic contexts. The Lab @ OPM has been focused on “capacity building” both within OPM and agencies.

It seems that GSA is taking the lead in government innovation. Dan Tangherlini, GSA’s Administrator and yesterday’s Keynote speaker, alluded to this is his remarks. However, to be effective, we ALL need to be innovators in our agencies. There seems to be a lot of innovation going on, but little government-wide coordination.

Unfortunately, there is no central “clearinghouse” or directory for agency innovation projects and many in the audience were not aware of the many innovation efforts.

Perhaps that is why many in the audience felt that “Innovation in Government” is an oxymoron. I hope that myth has now been dispelled!

Panel Members:

  • Hillary Hartley, Deputy Executive Director, Creative Services, 18F
  • Tammi Wark Marcoullier, Program Manager,
  • Meaghan Messner, Program Analyst, Office of Public Housing, Department of Housing and Urban Development
  • Abby Wilson, Director, Tha Lab @ OPM
  • Arianne Miller, Deputy Director, The Lab @ OPM
  • Lisa Nelson, Open Opportunities Project Lead, Office of Citizen Services and innovative Technologies, General Services Administration
  • Noha Gaber, Acting Director, Internal Communications, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency & Founder, EPA Emerging Leaders Network (moderator)

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