Government By Design – Innovations at the DoD

Young Government Leaders (YGL) and GovLoop present the NextGen Public Service Awards for superior public service and achievement. The 5th Annual NextGen Public Service Awards will be given at the 2015 NextGen Award’s Ceremony, which will kick of the NextGen Training Summit on July 20th and 21st in Washington, DC. This year we have 30 finalists – the NextGen 30. Over the next month we will introduce you to our finalists through this blog series.


Meet the Finalist:

Who: Joshua J. Marcuse, Senior Adviser for Policy Innovation, Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, U.S. Department of Defense

Achievement: NextGen Public Service Finalist, Courageous Champion Category

“Josh is an outstanding member of the OSD Policy team who serves as an excellent example of what a committed, energetic individual can accomplish in government. Josh has brought an incredible energy, organizational management knowledge base, and innovative spirit to planning professional development opportunities and human capital initiatives for the benefit of all Policy members, particularly the youngest members of the workforce. I can think of no other person in our organization who is so committed to collaboration, and also has the extensive networks to make such values a reality.” – Ainsley Browne, Department of Defense. Browne nominated Marcuse for the NextGen Courageous Champion Award.

When you think of government, “creativity” and “collaboration” probably aren’t the first two words that come to mind. Josh Marcuse is trying to change that. As Senior Adviser for Policy Innovation at the Department of Defense, Marcuse works to develop leaders, foster organizational change and innovate policies to make government organizations more collaborative and efficient.

Using human-centered design and design thinking tools, Marcuse is innovating the decision-making process at the Department of Defense, and he wants to do the same for all of the public sector.

Marcuse first got interested in design thinking at the OPM lab. There, he took a class on design thinking and human-centered design. Inspired by the innovative ideas he saw there, he collaborated with colleague Abby Wilson to apply these principles to the Office for the Undersecretary of Defense for Policy through his own original classes. After several successful pilot programs, Marcuse decided to launch his own design innovation practice.

Today, Marcuse helps government agencies achieve their goals by coaching them in new, more creative and collaborative approaches. To accomplish this, he focuses on developing leaders within the organization, reorganizes the agency to increase agility, and innovating agency policy to make it more open to collaboration. To Marcuse, collaboration is the key to innovation. “Changing some of the assumptions about how we work and the steps that we take and the stages that our work goes through can actually bake collaboration right into the process,” he explained.

Rather than telling leaders how to fix something, Marcuse assumes a professional coaching approach, working alongside managers as a partner to help them solve their organization’s problems. “…Everything we do is about experimentation, about prototyping, about testing ideas and assumptions,” he said.

Blending the social benefits and mission commitment of the nonprofit sector with the innovation and efficacy of the private sector, Marcuse uses human-centered design principles to break down the government’s barriers to collaboration. His workshops bring people who would normally never work together all to one place to brainstorm ways to improve their agency. And it’s working.

Marcuse’s DoD colleague and nominator Ainsley Browne said, “[Marcuse] has been a significant enabler of our ability to think innovatively and cultivate adaptability. He’s infused our organization with new ideas and facilitated discussion on how those ideas can be applied to national security decisions.”

Marcuse’s accomplishments have spread throughout the military. Today, he is working with representatives from the Navy and Air Force to create courses that will replicate his success at OSD and is also beginning conversations with the Army and Marine Corps. Marcuse’s courses have spread throughout the Pentagon, proving that people throughout the DoD and beyond are looking for new, more efficient ways to conduct business in the public sector.

To increase efficiency, Marcuse urges those who attend his classes to look for ways to alter the sequence of steps in which work is done, creating more space for collaboration early on. He encourages government leaders to use free resources online, in-person workshops, and conversations with colleagues to figure out how to tailor innovative designs to their organization’s unique mission and policy requirements.

Marcuse hopes that in the near future, the public sector will be a shared space that employees from all agencies will occupy together as public servants. His workshops are already creating alliances among people who would normally never work together at both the working-level and the secretary-level. Inspired by the same values and goals, these leaders are employing different design methods to make the government more efficient.

“I’m in public service because I believe the American people deserve a government that is as effective, as innovative, and as high-performing as any other team of leaders that we have in our society,” Marcuse said. The challenges we face today, and those that we’ll face tomorrow, require the best possible leaders. “That’s really the leadership that the country needs and deserves,” he concluded.

Society’s increasingly complex issues require more creative, collaborative and innovative solutions. The sooner the government adapts to changing times, the better it can lead. Collaboration, “…is the wave of the future, this is how we have to be,” Marcuse said. Pushing government forward, Marcuse’s workshops are breaking down barriers and cutting through red tape to form a more collaborative and efficient government workforce.

We will be talking to all the NextGen Public Service Award finalists in the upcoming weeks. See the full list here. Finally, register to attend the Awards Ceremony to get to know the NextGen 30 in-person!

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