Public Sector Innovation Officers: A Growing Trend

The need to innovate is present in all sectors of the economy. Whether it is innovation in product manufacturing, internal processes, or connecting with customers or constituencies, to stay relevant and effective, organizations must innovate. For large, complex and bureaucratic organizations like the Federal Government, how can you spur innovation? How can you get people thinking in a fresh way? How can you be innovative when your organization is steeped in hierarchy and layers of regulation, policy, process, and approvals? How do you attempt innovation in a change-resistant culture?

The answer lies in an innovation intervention involving the creation of a role or office with the sole purpose of driving innovation. Organizations are beginning to appoint innovation officers and institute an office of innovation, innovation center of excellence or innovation lab. According to The GovLoop Guide: 20 Innovations that Mattered in 2013, the evolution of the innovation officer is one of the trends to track in the coming year. The Guide states, “In the past two years, more than 20 cities, states, and school districts have added innovation officers to their municipal leadership teams.” Even the White House has highlighted innovation officers. Whitehouse.gov has written of Adel Ebeid, the City of Philadelphia’s first Chief Innovation Officer (CIO).

Building a culture of innovation starts with developing an innovation strategy. To execute the strategy successfully a bottom up approach for idea generation is an absolute must. While an innovation office, lab, center, or innovation officer is responsible for the innovation strategy, the staff entrenched in organizational processes can be a rich source of innovative ideas. Similarly, customers, clients, or other constituencies on the receiving end of the processes will have a different perspective and can also be sources for innovation.

The organizations’ innovation arm (office, lab, center, or officer) should establish the priority for what the organization should focus on, find a mechanism to receive innovative ideas and solutions from internal and external sources, and then research the ideas with the most potential. For example, say a federal agency wants to commit to filling vacant positions within 30 days from closing a job announcement. The innovation office could target HR personnel and all individuals throughout the agency who were hired in the last year to post their best ideas to an internal wiki.

The innovation office could launch a marketing campaign about the wiki to its intended audience for maximum potential. The wiki should be open for a pre-determined amount of time to encourage participants to post early. Then the innovation office monitors the comments and responds to them to get participants to continue to post and respond. At the close, the innovation office reviews the data, and conducts research to develop the best solution. Research can include internal and external focus groups, consultation with experts in other agencies or the private sector, or universities. During solution development it is wise to collaborate with the wiki contributors whose ideas are being used in the solution to ensure those closest to the situation are there to lend their expertise.

Don’t be discouraged if your organization doesn’t have a top level innovation arm. As a manager you can use innovative interventions within your team to solve the issues you are working on to help reach your goals. For example, a manager can plan a challenge amongst his/her employees to come up with a creative way to solve a team issue, or refine a process the team follows.

As an individual employee you can spark innovation by the way you interact with your colleagues. An employee can get the innovative juices flowing by using a new technique to brainstorm with colleagues on a shared project.

Whether we know it or not, we all have the potential to innovate. Even in complex, hierarchical, and bureaucratic organizations we have the leverage to innovate amongst our colleagues and within our teams. Having an innovative mindset can absolutely add fun and energy to the way you get your work done.

Look for future articles showcasing the implementation of innovation officers and offices within the federal space!

By Contributing Writer – Erica Tetuan, Senior Associate, Changeis, Inc. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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