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It Starts at Home – Developing a Culture of Innovation Can Change Everything

I have been thinking and writing a considerable amount about innovation over the last several months. Much of this has been focused on how innovation improves the capacity of government to serve and be responsive to the public. The reality though is that fostering a culture of innovation within an organization is a much more important goal than trying to increase the creativity or imagination brought to any single project or act of engagement.

Every day, many of us are faced with the challenge of needing to deal with the problems of the here and now while simultaneously struggling to make substantive improvements in the processes that govern the work we do. Though we can’t ignore the former, the latter offers the payoff and the promise of making our work transformitive rather than transactional. It allows those with vision to see entirely new ways of fulfilling the noble goals of transparency, participation & collaboration.

This being the case, every effort made to develop and nurture innovation within an organization deserves special mention and note. Today, the Dept. of Health and Human Services launched the 2nd round of the HHSInnovates program with HHS CTO Todd Parkhighlighting the program to external audiences via a post on the HHS Open Blog. Two aspects of this round of the program are particular compelling for me and help demonstrate how this program is evolving and is working toward true change in government:

  1. I am very happy to see that this program is not only rewarding innovations that are already proven successes but is also looking to reward explorative innovations. For me, this is an important step toward overcoming the fear of failure that has historically been very self-limiting in government.
  2. I am tremendously encouraged to see that there is more and better communication external to HHS about this program. Although the contest is limited to HHS employees, public discussion about innovation in government will only benefit the process and the results. Innovation is stimulated in diverse environments and allowing those outside government to learn more about the program and offer their own insight, perspective (and criticism) will only add value.
I think it important to also acknowledge that this program builds upon the growing body of innovation-driven activities across the federal government. Among other notable activities, the Department of Veterans Affairs is doing some very solid work (internally and externally) through its VAi2 program and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has a history of employee innovation driving agency change via the TSA IdeaFactory.

Now with all of that positive vibe flowing, I don’t think that anyone would say that the HHSInnovates program is perfect or that there are not other important steps that can and should be taken to help build a culture of innovation. However, that really is not the point. What matters is that this is improving the process, this is improving the culture and that this making government better. Anyone who has talked to me recently or has heard me talk knows that one of my favorite phrases now is continuous, iterative improvement. This program is merely a step on a longer journey.

So my call to action today is this – spread the word about the HHSInnovates program (and any other employee-driven innovation program in government) and help continue the dialog about how government can develop a culture of innovation.

Note: This was originally posted on my posterous blog: http://andrewpwilson.posterous.com/it-starts-at-home-developing-a-culture-of-inn

Note x2: These thoughts are mine and mine alone and are not necessarily representative of anyone or any organization with whom I may be associated.

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Adriel Hampton

Andrew, it’s great to see the HHS embracing a culture of innovation. One thing that I think it very important about this public campaign is that even if the processes and programs for innovation are not perfect, the culture is now empowering and encouraging the individuals in HHS. Institutional culture that empowers innovative individuals is key to government transformation, IMHO.

Lauren Modeen

Andrew, awesome stuff, and incredibly refreshing. In the name of innovation, here’s a fantastic website that really encourages all things creative, and more importantly, once the ideas are flowing, how to transform them into reality – http://the99percent.com/.