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Transforming Your Agency Through Open Innovation

We're blogging from the Next Generation of Government Training Summit. Follow along @NextGenGov and read more blog posts here.

If you’re unfamiliar with NextGen, the annual training summit educates, inspires and promotes innovation for new and rising leaders in government. Since 2010, the two-day summit has enhanced the professional and personal lives of 2,000+ Generation X and Y government employees, who are excited to learn new skills to innovate.

During our lunch keynote, J. Roxann T. Stafford and Neisan Massarrat spoke from SecondMuse’s Open Innovation Group. SecondMuse is an innovation and collaboration agency. They co-create prosperity by applying the art and science of collaboration to solve complex problems.

Our world is facing complex problems that government is tasked to address. Everything from climate change to creating improved business environments. “To create a more prosperous society, we need to encourage collaboration,” Stafford said.

And collaboration has become even more important than ever before, as our world is becoming increasingly interconnected, technology is providing transformative ways to share knowledge and resources. And government must capitalize on the opportunity.

“We know that government provides a lot of the backbone for collaboration,” Massarrat said. “All of you in this room and your colleagues have a mandate around openness, and how to change our actions to be more inclusive.”

The necessity of being more inclusive has lead governments to think about improved ways to be innovative, and encourage collaboration across government. As Massarrat reminds us, the old notions of innovation simply do not work. “What we need is a civic change and we need to adopt civility and openness to learning,” she said.

For the public sector, there are a lot of different ways that open innovation can happen. Whether it is through neighborhood groups, online forums, digital platforms designed to share information, hackathons or public sector challenges – there are dozens of ways open innovation can be manifested.

But what is needed is mass collaboration, and innovation at scale. With digital resources now at our disposal, the idea of mass collaboration and innovation at scale is now a reality. SecondMuse provided two great examples.

Space Apps Challenge International

The International Space Apps Challenge is a great example of mass collaboration. “The international space apps challenge embraces collaborative problem solving with a goal of producing relevant open source solutions to improve life on earth and space,” Stafford said.

“This initiative answered the key question, how does NASA engage thousands of its challenges at scale.”

In three years, the program has engaged over 9,000 innovators and produced over 400 solutions. The challenges are divided into NASA’s five mission directorates: Earth watch, technology in space, human spaceflight, robotics and asteroids. NASA has partnered with over 100 local organizations, and numerous government agencies.

National Day of Civic Hacking 2014

A second example is the National Day of Civic Hacking. “National Day of Civic Hacking was set up to really solve challenges and get closer to local governments,” Massarrat said. National Day is the biggest event to support the civic hacking movement. Anyone with ideas can help support the day. This year from May 31 to June 1, technologist, entrepreneurs, developers and activist partner around the world to support ways to drive civic change by creating improved websites, apps, or anything that will drive improved public sector delivery of services.

2014 was a tipping for National Day, as it expanded outside the US and there were 30% more events and 24% more cities, making it the largest mass collaboration in history.

SecondMuse reported that over twenty-two government agencies have setup hackathons and participated in the National Day of Civic Hacking, and there were over 123 events, and nearly 500 solutions created in 2014.

4 Keys to Innovation

SecondMuse closed the session by providing four ways to bring openness and collaboration to government.

  • Engage with people outside government
  • Support your fellow change makers
  • Open up your innovation process
  • Communicate the benefits realized through an open approach and partnerships

With technology today, there is tremendous opportunity to achieve innovation and collaboration at scale. As we continue to encourage a more open and transparent society, we are well on our way to improving the way government meets its complex missions.

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