In a government setting, the word “innovation” can mean any number of different things. For Michael Whitaker, Senior Vice President of Emerging Solutions at ICF, it refers to a shift in operational mindset. Too often, he believes, agencies focus on daily tasks at the expense of progress.
“In general, I find ‘innovation’ to be an ambiguous and, often, arguably meaningless term,” Whitaker said. “The way I think about it — in government and really in any organization, whether that’s private industry or nonprofit — there’s a tension between execution and innovation. Most employees throughout their entire careers have been trained for and incentivized for and held accountable for execution. You actually have to manage for innovation. You have to step back from the fire drills of execution to provide the time and space to incrementally improve what you’re doing now.”
To that end, innovation is a team sport, he said, and he encourages that philosophy as industry co-chair for the Igniting Innovation conference, set to take place at the Renaissance Washington DC Hotel on May 11. The event will showcase 40 of the most innovative projectsto improve citizen services from the last year, with one of those to be recognized as the overall winner.
But this year, Whitaker said, the American Council for Technology and Industry Advisory Council (ACT-IAC) wanted to bolster the educational aspect of the conference with an emphasis on speakers, including Matt Lira from the White House Office of American Innovation. It’s free to government workers and academic members of ACT-IAC, $75 for industry members and $100 for non-members.
The winning project last year came from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services for its E-Verify program. The program is part of the Verification Information System used by more than 600,000 companies nationwide to validate employment eligibility to work in the U.S. According to the President’s Management Agenda, E-Verify is helping users decrease case status processing time by 30 percent and employer enrollment time by more than 45 percent.
E-Verify had undergone rapid modernization using agile, DevOps, cloud services and data science best practices to deliver new features that made it easier for individuals to improve their lives by starting jobs, obtaining public benefits and other credentials.
The Igniting Innovation conference is designed to encourage thinking about innovation as a management discipline, in the same way you’d think about quality control or risk management. Whitaker believes that government is at a crossroads — that agencies must start to change if they want to be prepared for the future.
“You can’t do everything you do now,” he said. “You actually have to make a conscious decision to let go of certain things. You have to be real about what can be protected, and what can be let go.”
Igniting Innovation will open for attendees at 9 a.m. on Friday, and the award ceremony will begin at 3:30 p.m. For the full conference agenda, visit its website.
“It’s going to be a tremendously interesting day,” Whitaker said, “in terms of hearing not just the dry, written use cases government innovation, but hearing from the human beings who are driving innovation in government, about what motivates them, what they’re seeing working well, what some of the challenges are.”