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State and Local Innovation Begins With the Right Mindset

Citizens’ most common interactions with the government happen at the state and local levels. From renewing driver’s licenses to providing emergency services, local governments help citizens with their daily lives. The dependability of local governments could lead to monotony unless public sector employees make the conscious effort to innovate.

During GovLoop’s “GovInsights: Innovation in State and Local Government” online training session on Wednesday, speakers discussed how local governments can develop an innovation mentality that reaps the most rewards. Experts included Boulder, Colorado Chief Innovation Officer (CIO) Julia Richman, Riverside, California CIO George Khalil, AWS West Region Manager Mark Ronaldson and GovLoop Staff Writer Isaac Constans.

Developing an innovation starts with understanding how to leverage the bureaucratic process, Richman said. “Part of the innovator’s dilemma, and opportunity, in government is unwinding [the bureaucratic] process.” She explained that public sector employees may have to be willing to embrace incremental innovation over transformational shifts, given the structure of most government agencies.

But this doesn’t mean waiting for sweeping legislative change.

Ronaldson noted his own experiences aiding state and local governments as they incorporate cloud into their daily operations to explain how public sector employees can start innovating without administrative action.

“It doesn’t necessarily need to start with full-blown governance and policy,” he said. “We’ve started to see governments test out use cases and pilot programs to begin to understand what the implications of cloud would be.”

Becoming an innovator starts by just trying out new ideas and making small changes without fear of failure. To do this, agencies must first have a plan in place to mitigate missteps.

Admitting to yourself, and your team, early on that there will be missteps can prevent discouragement later on. Richman explained that starting with small experiments to shrink the consequences of failure helps lower the risky consequences and growing pains of innovation.

Once government employees have achieved a thorough understanding of the red tape that dictates government services and are ready to overcome failure, they’ll have to be sure to continuously embrace constituent feedback. An innovative government mindset requires a dedication to solutions that will actually achieve what’s best for citizens at-large.

“The biggest key to innovation is to make sure that we’re providing a service that people want,” Khalil said. “Engage your constituents and make sure that people have some input into the priorities and the work that is being done.”

After government employees develop an innovation mindset, it’ll be easier to utilize new technology in their daily problem-solving. On this, Ronaldson offered guidance: “Define the problem and then start small. Start getting used to what this new technology may mean. Try it out and learn from your experience. When you can, share that experience and learn from others.”

With the right attitude about innovation, taking the steps toward embracing new technologies becomes less daunting. But keep in mind, maintaining innovation agencywide will not end with an IT upgrade, it will also require continuous reminders to keep your team in the innovative mindset.

Photo Credit: Johannes Plenio on Unsplash

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