Take these steps to spark innovation at your agency

Federal agencies wanting to answer President Barack Obama's recent call for greater innovation should create a space online for employees to collaborate and volunteer to join initiatives they are passionate about, according to the Partnership for Public Service.

Federal agencies wanting to answer President Barack Obama’s recent call for greater innovation should create a space online for employees to collaborate, share stories and volunteer to join initiatives they are passionate about, according to a recent report by the Partnership for Public Service.

Agency leaders should also request funding for innovation, establish a lab for testing new ideas, organize a task force to identify barriers to innovation, and rotate employees in the agency to spread ideas, the report recommended.

“Expectations of our government are on the rise at a time when budgets and timelines are shrinking, leaving many of our public servant struggling to deliver results,” the report said. “To satisfy these pressures, many federal leaders are embracing innovations tools, including crowd-sourcing, competitions and prizes, as ways of unleashing employee creativity.”


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In his State of the Union address last month, Obama emphasized the importance of American innovation, calling it the “first step in winning the future,” and said it will lead to new industries and job growth.

The partnership’s “Innovation in Government” report provides a framework federal leaders can use to create an innovation-friendly environment at their agencies. The Partnership finished the report in December but is only now officially releasing it, according to a spokeswoman.

To prepare the report, the partnership and IDEO, a design and innovation consulting firm, completed interviews, focus groups and brainstorms with more than 100 people representing more than 45 organizations in the public, private and nonprofit sectors.

The report uncovers four major barriers to innovation in government, including politics and miscommunication disrupting collaboration efforts; feds having no formal process for introducing and exploring new ideas; a lack of funding for research and development; and government often rewarding the status quo.

“As a result, many employees are unused to taking risks, trying new things and creatively approaching problem-solving,” the report said. “Ultimately, we are left with a government that is hindered at a time when agency performance goals demand nothing less than extraordinary measures.”
 
Online idea submission programs, like the president’s SAVE Award or the Transportation Security Administration’s IdeaFactory, are greatly needed and long overdue, the partnership explained in the report. But it added that the government still lacks an environment of “grassroots innovation” where new ideas can emerge at any time and in any context.

“Federal leaders need an even greater focus on equipping and empowering their people to innovate 24/7,” the report said. “Innovation is not simply a one-time project or a new online tool. It is a learned process that requires a shift in thinking, a disciplined approach and strong leadership.”

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