Lessons Learned for Government Innovators in 2012

Throughout the month of December, GovLoop has been reviewing the year in government technology – everything from BYOD to social media, I’ve been working to highlight some case studies, best practices and try and condense the year down into one post, while looking forward to the year 2013. Follow along here by viewing GovLoop’s Year in Review Guide, our related blog series, and podcasts.

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Throughout of the year, Google has been identifying their “GovTransformers,” individuals who have done remarkable work for their communities and change the way government operates. I’d encourage you to take a look at all the great case studies, and see how Google’s GovTransformers are leveraging Google tools and applications to bring innovation into their agency. They are all great stories and case studies about government innovators.

Below I have highlighted 3 of my favorite examples from 2012. I’ve shared with you quotes from the GovTransformers, and would highly encourage you to visit the GovTransformers site to view the full story. I’ve also added in 5 year end lessons learned for government innovators. If you’re like me, they are re-energizing to read and do a fantastic job to help tell the story of great people innovating in the public sector.

Laura Peveler - Helping Track City Budgets More Carefully, City of Columbia, MO

Laura led the charge to implement Google Apps to collaborate across the agency to improve the accuracy of personnel costs for the City of Columbia. Historically, these assessments were very hard to verify, as employees had no central spot to collaborate. With Google Apps now in place, the use of Google Docs has speeded up the accuracy of personnel costs and helped improve budget forecasting and control costs at the City. Laura states:

I´ve been a proud employee of the City of Columbia, MO for over 20 years. During my tenure, technology has made leaps and bounds, and it´s been fascinating to see how it has improved our operations, particularly with our annual budget.

For years we had no mechanism in place to see how departments developed their estimated personnel costs for the year. Personnel costs are a major portion of many departmental budgets, so it´s critical that estimates are accurate. Historically, departments struggled with these estimates because there are so many variables to track, such as overtime, temporary positions needed and retirement payouts. Once these estimates were determined and entered them into our accounting system, the budgeting staff would spend days checking these amounts and required many calls and emails between the budget staff and the various departments. The process was daunting and extremely time consuming.

Fardowsa MacLeod - Keeping a Community Safe During Emergencies
In the City of Edmonton, Alberta County, Fardowsa was looking for improved ways to engage with citizens and city employees. Through the use of developing surveys, mobile applications, presentations, or collaborative documents, Fardowsa has been able to reach and engage with a variety of stakeholders. Fardowsa stated:

I feel lucky to have a very rewarding job. IT in city government is often buried behind the scenes, but today we frequently find ourselves the limelight, because we can provide services that are genuinely useful.

In Edmonton, the second largest city in the province of Alberta, one of the most visible ways we are helping citizens and visitors is by enabling them to travel by bus using mobile devices versus quickly outdated paper maps. In 2009, we began offering Transit on Google Maps, putting trip planning right in the palms of users' hands. When users search for a destination, they see a Google map showing the transit trip, departure times, bus stop locations, transfer information, and walking route details. And, Google Maps supports multiple languages, so it's easy for international users.

Elliot Marvin - Enabling the State Guard to work together from anywhere, South Carolina State Guard
Elliot Marvin started using Google Apps as early as 2007 to communicate with his team more effectively no matter where they are located. With Google Apps, Elliot is able to send confidentials and sensitive information securely to staff and commanders, compile training, and access personnel listings, regulations, or other pertinent information through any device. Elliot states:

After tragedy struck on 9/11, I wanted to help my country. I decided to enlist in the South Carolina State Guard (SCSG) so I could help my state and my community. In 2005, I joined the SCSG and am now the G-6 (Chief Information Officer) for the 3rd Brigade.

At the SCSG, we train to help out in the event of natural disasters, participate in community activities, and even help other states in national emergencies. Outside of regular drills we work on a volunteer basis, so we all have separate day jobs and are located in different parts of the state. With no central place to collaborate, our official communication was done through personal or alternate work email accounts. This was not only inefficient, but also posed an information security risk.

Lessons Learned Government Innovators in 2012

1 - Learning to Take Risks and Work Within the System

Taking a risk doesn’t mean storming down the bureaucratic walls, it means learning how to work with a system and excel. For many innovators, they will be met with stark opposition, that’s to be expected. If you are passionate about your idea, it requires you to learn how to navigate and work within a system to promote and push your idea forward.

2 - Talk about Value

Not every risk is worth taking. Take the time to think through the problem that is being solved, and what new value is being created by changing a system, a process or implementing something new.

3 - Be Persistent and Patience, learn from failures

Change does not occur overnight, for many things in the public sector, it will take a lot of iterations and modifications for innovation to occur. Being persistent and having patience is essential, and as a lot of innovators are do’ers and like to see things move swiftly, that reality may not always be there.

Blending maybe two lessons into one - but another key is not to be afraid to fail, or even define what failure is. A project might not go 100% as you intended, but you might achieve your ultimate goal. Find small wins, rally around them, and take lessons learned from any kind of failure and learn how to improve on the next go around.

4 - Build Followers

Innovation never happens in a vacuum. Enlist support from peers, employees, managers, and stakeholders to push and idea forward. Find someone who has tried to do a similar project, or has been successful in moving their ideas forward, learn everything you can to help you push your ideas forward.

5 - Be Transparent

Transparency is essential to innovation. Clearly articulate intent, goals, what is being solved, who is involved and how you plan to proceed with any changes or innovations. With full transparency, this will help build trust and encourage collaboration.

Google’s GovTransformers is an interesting project, and a great way to learn from peers and see the good work that is being done in the public sector through IT. In 2013, challenges for government will simply become more complex, more intertwined, and continue to have a variety of stakeholders attached to challenges. Government needs more innovators and people ready to push the envelope forward for more public sector innovations to occur.

More Google Posts from 2012

MIT Report Finds Cost Savings for Cloud Adoption by Small Businesses
Google’s Data Center Revealed
How Do We Define A Digital Citizen?
GovTransformer Case Study - "When The Economy Gets Tough - The Tough Get Innovative"
Announcing Google Maps Coordinate: Transforming Collaboration During a Crisis
3 Great Case Studies - Local Government Adopting Google Technology
3 Benefits of Using Collaboration Tools

Google is a public and profitable company focused on search services. It’s mission is to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful. Check out their Google for Gov group on GovLoop as well as the Technology Sub-Community of which they are a council member.

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