The Washington Post

Federal Buzz: The price of innovation in federal government

To what lengths should government go to discover the next great innovation?

Last month, in an effort to “modernize and rightsize government to make it more efficient, effective and accountable,” New York’s Spending and Government Efficiency Commission (SAGE) recommended the creation of a Government Innovation Fund that would focus on three initiatives: redesigning business processes, leveraging technology, and integrating government customer-facing activities.

Two conversations on GovLoop covered the gamut of potential responses to such a proposal.

“Creating an innovation fund along with allocation of time for staff to work on process and efficiency improvement projects is a great way to not only reduce operational overhead in the long term but also retain talented people,” said IT Manager Jason Richmond, who works for the city of Central Point, Ore.

“It would be very important to publicize the projects and show and track the results just as you would have to do in the private sector. It would only take a few key wins to make this a success.”

New York is not the first government to come up with the innovation lab concept. Applied social scientist Andrea Schneider, who is working on a book to be published by the London School of Economics, pointed out that other governments are using innovation labs.

“To say the least, there is much more going on outside the United States, with a much broader systems agenda than the U.S., that focus on Gov 2.0, websites, apps, data and technology,” Schneider said. “Excellent models exist, using interdisciplinary teams, ethnography, human centered design and co-creation to address the wicked and challenging problems facing so many countries, including our own.”

GovLoop founder Steve Ressler wondered what a U.S. government innovation lab would look like.

HR specialist Terrence Hill described what a government innovation lab would look like: “No furniture — all virtual. Not tied to one agency — all agencies. Not local— global. Not just for the young — all ages. Not just public sector — all sectors. Not just IT — all disciplines. Not expensive — free.”

Free? Not so fast. One government telecommunications specialist agreed with the need for an innovation fund, but suggested that such an initiative is far from free.

Instead of using government dollars, public affairs specialist Dannielle Blumenthal had a different idea. “I would support this but fund it through innovative ideas offered by employees/ the public that have resulted in cost savings. Self-funding is important to build into pilot projects especially. Then give employees time to innovate on the job.”

In the end, New York’s SAGE Commission will have to determine if this innovation fund would even provide real results.

“Part of public-sector innovation is taking risk and not getting stuck on barriers if possible,” said Schneider. “Is money really the problem or is it something much harder? Coming up with the best idea, even through a brilliant process, does not mean anything happens.”

Would you support the creation of a government innovation fund in an effort to improve government performance? Tell us in the comments or on Twitter using #FedBuzz. We’ll share responses in a GovLoop post next week.

Tweet #FedBuzz

Allison Primack is a GovLoop Graduate Fellow and a graduate student at the Trachtenberg School of Public Policy and Public Administration at The George Washington University. Her profile on GovLoop is here.


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