2017 Rising Star Awards

Stefano M. Rivolta

Project Manager, Innovation Sandbox, Department of State

The culture of inertia can be strong in government, and fear of failure is a formidable obstacle to experimentation. But at the State Department, Stefano Rivolta is taking the lead on creating a space where technology experimentation and innovation are encouraged, even in the face of steep budget cuts.

He said the point of the Innovation Sandbox is “to explore new technology, not just what’s new and shiny,” and to do so within budget constraints.

“Our focus is to provide a space for this kind of tinkering [or] experimentation with new hardware and software,” Rivolta said. “We’re the ‘let’s get weird’ group.”

The beauty and power of the Innovation Sandbox, which Rivolta expects to formally launch by year’s end, lie in the fact that “we don’t really have a scope,” he added. “We don’t say, ‘That’s not our thing.’”

Laura Williams, director of business applications at State’s Foreign Service Institute, jokes that she “stole” Rivolta from another office after spotting his technical aptitude.

“He has literally been a tank of oxygen to our team,” she said. “We’re going through some really big changes…and he’s really given us all an easy and enjoyable way of trying things out.”

Whether he’s leading brainstorming sessions, promoting human-centered design, creating data visualizations or just generally being approachable, “that sort of pioneering or experimental spirit really humanizes him and really brings everybody to a whole new level,” Williams said.

Rivolta said he is most proud of the “ripple effect” of innovation that has spread throughout the office and seeped into other areas.

In addition to his work on the Innovation Sandbox, he is helping to streamline procurement processes and update State’s IT curriculum by expanding the traditional classroom-based instruction to incorporate podcasts, blogs, micro-learning videos and remote sessions.

Click here for more on all the 2017 Rising Stars

About the Author

Chase Gunter is a staff writer covering civilian agencies, workforce issues, health IT, open data and innovation.

Prior to joining FCW, Gunter reported for the C-Ville Weekly in Charlottesville, Va., and served as a college sports beat writer for the South Boston (Va.) News and Record. He started at FCW as an editorial fellow before joining the team full-time as a reporter.

Gunter is a graduate of the University of Virginia, where his emphases were English, history and media studies.

Click here for previous articles by Gunter, or connect with him on Twitter: @WChaseGunter

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