How to Drive Change in Government

GovLoop’s hosting its Fifth Annual Government Innovators Virtual Summit, an all-day, virtual event with five different online trainings, networking opportunities and resources to help government do their job better — and we’re recapping each session for you. Head here to read write-ups from the other trainings.

GovLoop’s annual Virtual Summit is all about inspiring innovation in the public sector. But how exactly do you do that in a government known for endless paper trails and daunting bureaucracies?

Before we dove into the specific technologies and practices that public servants can use to create change, we heard from William Eggers, Director of Public Sector Research at Deloitte. Eggers is also the author of Solution Revolution, a study of how business, government and social enterprises are teaming up to solve society’s toughest problems.

He explained the five high-level roles that government innovators should assume, before they ever think about investing in or creating new initiatives:

1. Be a solution recruiter. To spur truly disruptive innovation, it’s critical to accrue as many opinions, ideas, and perspectives as possible. Eggers pointed out that, by sheer numbers, there are always more people outside than inside your organization with great ideas. As a government innovator, your first job is to bring those people into the fold of government. “Be a solution recruiter,” he said. “Be that person connecting problems to the solutions that are already out there.”

Eggers referenced Data USA, a new platform that hosts the most comprehensive visualization of U.S. data from across government and private organizations, as one way to recruit solutions. The platform, which was built using open source code, allows anyone to take government problems as well as the data attached to them, and begin creating solutions. “We’re hoping it’s just the beginning of an innovation cycle,” said Eggers.

2. Integrate the Ecosystem. “Sometimes the solutions are already out there but there’s no one person, agency, company or organization that’s going to integrate that,” said Eggers. “What we lack are those organizations that can be a collider of people… and provide platforms for problem solving.”

As an example of what Eggers envisions, he discussed the common dilemma of commuter traffic. “The average commuter in D.C. spends 67 hours a year in traffic. How do you improve that? The solution isn’t to build more roads,” he said. “But there are lots of solutions out there to create a congestion relief ecosystem.”

That ecosystem could combine the autonomous ideas from companies like Google, with the ridesharing techniques of public and private enterprises and the mobility of application providers to create one streamlined traffic system. “What we lack is an organization to pull all of this together, though,” said Eggers. He suggested government consider filling that role.

3. Co-create. “Look at customers – both citizens and businesses – in government in a different way. Look at them as co-creators of the solution,” Eggers said. To make this actionable, Eggers encouraged public servants to involve end users at every stage of the process and then seeking ways to allow them to contribute to your ultimate solution in real-time.

At AltSchools, a group of public institutions in California, this practice is already well underway. The schools “disrupt the education value chain by involving parents and students at every level, rather than just dictated by the school board,” explained Eggers. Each child is able to craft a “learning playlist” based on her specific needs. Assessments are continual and used to tweak their individual learning plans and regular feedback from students and parents guides an overarching curriculum.

Eggers encouraged other government organizations to consider this type of personalized consideration for other projects, rather than education alone.

4. Design the Experience. “What we call the information age is also a design age,” said Eggers. “We’ve gotten really, really good at the notion of designing for users… with a relentless focus on the user, rather than just stakeholders.”

Yet Eggers also admitted government slightly behind the curve on this trend. He wants that to change. “The key element is that government has to adapt to where citizens and businesses are today,” he said. “We can’t keep forcing them to adapt to government.”

In Australia, the child welfare program is already starting to take this approach with a program called Child Story. When the government began investigating the state of their foster programs, they realized through discussions with children, social works, and prospective parents that the majority of childhood mementos like report cards and school drawings were being lost in the system. Child Story was created to be a digital repository for foster children’s personal stories and artifacts, giving both the children and prospective parents a more holistic view of the child’s life.

5. Build Your Army. As you assume the four previous innovation roles, realize that you can’t do any of this alone. “When you look at these successful projects so far, the big reason for success is because there is a cadre of individuals who are passionate about it, knowledgeable about the the area, and are willing to collaborate with each other,” said Eggers.

Before you dive into innovation, find like-minded individuals who can support you and your ideas for change. Not sure where to find those individuals? Head over to our Virtual Summit to meet public servants and innovators from across the country!

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Oftentimes, public service staff members begin to exhibit “group think” because of their tenure within the organization. It is very easy to speak about the past efforts and outcomes; not that we want anyone to forget legacy data but, I submit to you a premise of visioning. Revisit some of those really good ideas that did not work so well and shine them with a bit of ingenuity, tweaking and collaboration, and you might just find a more effective and efficient way to conduct business. After all, there is nothing new under the sun — just new methods of viewing the data. This is a really good article.