Creating a Culture of Innovation
Build a 21st Century Culure and Workforce
"Everyday Americans deserve a way of thinking that empowers rather than divides, that confronts challenges rather than creating them, that solicits all types of expertise rather than espousing tired approaches."
-Aneesh Chopra, former U.S. Chief Technology Officer
Purpose and Outcomes
Purpose: Innovation in the federal government involves encouraging a problem-solving mindset in your organization and empowering your employees to use modern tools and experiment with new approaches to achieve greater mission impact.
Motivated innovators across federal agencies have pioneered approaches that deliver better results at lower cost for the U.S. public. However, only 31 percent of federal employees feel their agency rewards creativity and innovation according to the Office of Personnel and Management (OPM) 2017 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey. This is a decrease of 6 percent from the 2015 survey results.
Government innovators need support at all agency levels to effectively introduce, test, and scale promising programs and solve challenging problems. An innovative culture's ultimate goal is to learn and share the skills and capabilities that can help us do our work more effectively.
- Digital IT Acquisition Professional (DITAP) Training from Office of Federal Procurement Policy (OFPP) and U.S. Digital Service (USDS). Using human-centered design (HCD) principles and agile methods for software development are very different from traditional waterfall methods for development. The OFPP and USDS created DITAP to train contracting professionals on how to develop appropriate acquisition strategies for procuring digital supplies and services.
- Health and Human Services (HHS) IDEA Lab Innovates Awards identified and celebrated employee-led innovation at HHS from 2010 to 2015. HHS employees nominated and voted on the top innovations. The winning innovators were personally recognized by HHS leadership at an annual awards ceremony and received media recognition and cash prizes for their work.
- The HHS Ignite Accelerator is an internal innovation startup program for HHS staff. Started in July 2013, the program allows employees to develop bold ideas to improve how their program, office, or agency works, and to infuse entrepreneurial approaches into their work. Selected teams receive design thinking and lean start-up training during a three-day boot camp, followed by coaching and technical guidance over three months to help teams define and test creative ideas in meaningful ways.
- Veterans' Affairs (VA) Spark-Seed-Spread Innovation Funding Program supplies VA employees with supportive pathways to design and deploy thoughtful solutions to tough challenges. It provides training opportunities for VA employees to learn innovation-related skills like human centered-design (HCD), access to three different types of funding grants, and mentorship support to develop and test innovation projects.
Tactical strategies are required to effectively encourage adoption, adaptation, and deployment of innovation within an agency. Innovators at all levels of government use various approaches:
Support change seekers institutionally
- Become or ally yourself with high-level champion and advocates
- Use policy guidance to empower
- Create different types of infrastructure that make new approaches easy
- Link the broader performance management agenda with specific innovative tools
Create enabling environments
- Create new organizations, such as centers of excellence and accelerators
- Charter an innovation council to build capacity and consensus of broader adoption of particular approaches
- Use accelerators to pilot new ideas
Have incentives and reward experimentation
- Formally recognize innovators through awards and acknowledgement
- Create incentives for adoption of innovation
- Link broad goals to individual performance plans
Foster a culture of learning
- Create high quality, updated, online resources that help federal employees
- Use experiential learning in professional development and training
- Foster communities of practice
Actions and Considerations
Use these key tactics when trying to encourage a new idea or process improvement:
- Start small, and let success build on itself. Start with well-documented early wins (i.e. evidence, rather than simply inspiration, provided by small piloted successes.)
- Have multiple approaches to engage community: Leaders can use a public platform to spotlight an issue, but have a concurrent bottom-up (or out) strategy.
- Establish accountability: Make people commit to doing things in front of the highest levels of leadership.
- Look for allies: Take a team approach.
- Build community and networks: Build communities of practice (CoP) in your own agency and work up to interagency CoPs.
- American Innovation and Competitiveness Act of 2016
- Expands the use of challenges and gives the authority for any federal government agency to work cooperatively with and pool funds from multiple government agencies and profit or nonprofit private-sector entity, state, tribal, local, or foreign government agencies and higher education institutions.
- America Competes Reauthorization Act of 2010
- Established authorities for all federal agencies to offer incentive prizes and run challenge competitions "to stimulate innovation that has the potential to advance the mission of the respective agency."
- Principles for Federal Engagement in Standards Activities to Address National Priorities OMB, M-12-08, January 17, 2012.
- The White House, "A Strategy for American Innovation: Driving Towards Sustainable Growth and Quality Jobs," September 2009.
- The White House, "Memorandum for the National Science & Technology Council Committee on Technology – Subject: Winning the Future through Open Innovation," June 8, 2011.
- The White House, "A Strategy for American Innovation," October 2015.
- Andy Feldman, "A primer on the Commission on Evidence-Based Policymaking's recommendations: An interview with Nick Hart, Bipartisan Policy Center – Episode #160," GovInnovator, October 3, 2017. Conversations on useful practices and insights from public-sector innovators and experts, hosted by Andy Feldman, a Visiting Fellow at the Brookings Institution and former Special Advisor for Evidence-Based Policy at OMB.
- HHS IDEA Lab, "Innovation as a Problem Solving Tool in Government," 2016. An overview of how HHS has deployed innovative approaches to deliver on its mission.
- U.S. Government Accountability Office, "Data and Analytics Innovation: Emerging Opportunities and Challenges (GAO-16-659SP)," September 2016. GAO convening summary of the emerging innovation opportunities presented by big data and analytics.
- Stanford's e-Corner: Contains several conversations, videos, and podcasts with leading innovators and entrepreneurs.
- The White House, "Memorandum for the National Science & Technology Council Committee on Technology – Subject: Open Innovator's Toolkit," February 8, 2012. Former Chief Technology Officer (CTO) Aneesh Chopra lays out his vision for an innovation toolkit in government.