DorobekINSIDER: Does the insurgent approach to government innovation work?

Hey there. I’m Christopher Dorobek — the DorobekINSIDER — and welcome GovLoop’s DorobekINSIDER… where we focus on six words: Helping government do its job better.

On GovLoop’s DorobekINSIDER:

  • Enterprise Architecture is Back In Style: We hear the term enterprise architecture and… well, lets be honest, we don’t fully understand what it is. There are legal requirements — but does enterprise architecture help us get our job done better? There is a new focus on using enterprise architecture to focus on results.

But up front:

Does the insurgent approach to government innovation work?

Change in government can be complex and difficult. We all get that. Frankly, change in large organizations is difficult — and government organizations tend to be large.

I was thrilled to participate in a session that I have billed as a Government Innovators Support Group. It was a remarkable group of people doing remarkable things. The session was ‘off the record,’ so I’m not even going to share their jobs at the risk of disrupting this kind of group getting together and sharing their thoughts and experiences. The evening seemed absolutely invaluable to me.

There was a general theme of the salon dinner: The challenge of being a government innovator. Interestingly, many of these government innovators described themselves as “insurgents” — innovation insurgents, if you will.

The evening spurred me to thinking: What is the best way to bring about change?

There was a certain frustration among these government innovators — many of them younger… certainly within the first half of their career. The government is slow to change, even in areas where there are known problems… there is a somewhat inexplicable aversion to any risk whatsoever — especially in an environment where it is difficult (at best) to get rid of under-performers…

There was a frustration with phrases like ‘that’s not the way we do business in government’ and a seeming over reliance on doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

How do you bring about innovation? During the dinner conversation, there seemed to be consensus that disrupting technologies were helping drive change.

Even in the most innovative, agile organizations, change is difficult, and it is particularly difficult in government. Technology helps… and reduced budgets can force changes that just wouldn’t happen otherwise.

I’m not sure an insurgent approach works in large, bureaucratic organizations.

In fact, I pressed some of these innovators to have an appreciation of what has come before. Many government organizations are the best in the world at what they do. The Centers for Disease Control is a model for many countries… the U.S. military is an amazingly lethal force…

The argument of government innovators is that many organizations have been amazing and remarkable, but times are changing exceedingly quickly and the truly remarkable organizations for the 21st Century are the ones that will be agile and evolve to these rapidly changing times. (See link below about the U.S. Postal Service to see what can happen if organizations don’t/are not allowed to change and innovate.)

So the challenge is to demonstrate that we don’t have to keep doing the same thing over and over again — we can do things in a different way… and to ‘build a better mousetrap.’

These days there are remarkable people helping each other to innovate — these kinds of gatherings are terribly valuable, it seems.

Related from the Harvard Business Review: To Innovate in a Big Company, Don’t Think “Us Against Them”

“This seems like pie-in-the-sky wishful thinking. Have you actually seen this done?”  I often hear this question when I visit companies and speak about how to make an innovative idea less terrifying to high level executives. The skepticism is warranted. There are plenty of pundits arguing that big companies need to innovate, and pointing out that it is difficult to do so. Far less often do we hear how it really comes together, especially inside a large organization.  But it does happen.”

The DorobekINSIDER #MustRead list:

  • Report Faults Rollout of Air-Traffic-Control Upgrade [The Wall Street Journal] A Core Technology at Center of Modernization Is Cited for High Costs: An effort to modernize the U.S. air-traffic-control system is seeing such a bumpy rollout that costs associated with some of the core technology outweigh potential benefits, according to a report soon to be released by a federal watchdog.  An audit report by the Transportation Department’s inspector general, slated to be released in the next few days, raises new questions about the design, deployment and projected benefits of one of the Federal Aviation Administration’s futuristic ways to enhance monitoring and management of aircraft.
  • New details in fence-jumping reveal failures in security rings around White House [The Washington Post] As an intruder sprinted for the White House door Friday, a Secret Service officer ran to get in his way — but the intruder barreled past the officer and kept going, officials familiar with the incident said Tuesday. A few yards farther on, the intruder, Omar Jose Gonzalez, reached the White House door. A guard was supposed to be posted directly in front, but no one was blocking the door at that moment. Those new details help explain how the Secret Service’s plan for guarding the White House — which envisioned five different rings of protection between the public sidewalk and the president’s front door — failed so completely.
  • DoD upends its strategy for buying commercial cloud services [Federal News Radio]

DorobekINSIDER water cooler fodder

Before we finish up… a few items from the DorobekINSIDER water-cooler fodder… yes, we’re trying to help you make your water-cooler time better too…

  • The DorobekINSIDER Book Club – Join us in reading Frans Johansson’s book: The Medici Effect: Breakthrough Insights at the Intersection of Ideas — and then join the discussion about what the concepts mean for government. More information about how it works here.
  • How the U.S. Screwed Up in the Fight Against Ebola [Bloomberg Businessweek] Could a large stockpile of an experimental cocktail of Ebola antibodies called ZMapp have halted the spread of Ebola? No one can say. What’s certain is that the U.S. government hasn’t done a good job taking the idea behind ZMapp and turning it into a treatment. The technology for antibody cocktails such as ZMapp has “been around for a few decades,” says Robert Garry, a professor of microbiology at Tulane University. “This is something that, given the emergency, the government could have moved a little faster on, quite honestly.” He’s more right than he knows. The treatment came into the hands of a little-known Pentagon agency in late 2010, and, Bloomberg Businessweek has learned, ZMapp sat there dormant, waiting for a contract, for two years.
  • 9 charts explaining the U.S. Postal Service [Vox] Amazon is one of the only things keeping the US Postal service afloat
  • OECD Recommendation on Digital Government Strategies: From the The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development: Capturing the value of digital technologies for more open, participatory and innovative governments:    Using technology to improve government accountability, social inclusiveness and partnerships.   Creating a data-driven culture in the public sector.  Ensuring coherent use of digital technologies across policy areas and levels of government.  Strengthen the ties between digital government and broader public governance agendas.  Reflecting a risk management approach to address digital security and privacy issues.  Developing clear business cases to sustain the funding and success of digital technologies projects.  Reinforcing institutional capacities to manage and monitor project implementation.  Assessing existing assets to guide procurement of digital technologies.  Reviewing legal and regulatory frameworks to allow digital opportunities to be seized.

Three Steps to Becoming a Strategic CIO [The Wall Street Journal] Step One: Engage. You don’t need to be a chief strategy officer “to recognize the value of engaging the rest of the organization,” Guest Contributor Peter High writes. CIOs aiming to play a more strategic role in the organization must meet early and often with the heads of other business units.

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