With contributions from Brian Sichi

Government agencies are facing ever increasing demands for modern services, which is driving a need for increased innovation in the public sector.  The President has highlighted the need for innovation in his New Management Agenda and has called on his Cabinet to develop an agenda that, “delivers a smarter, more innovative, and more accountable government for its citizens. “ [i] As pressures increase to constantly do more with less, public sector organizations and the private sector companies that support them need to find new ways to deliver services to citizens, and do so in a constrained fiscal environment.

Digitizing government services is an example of an innovation that will provide better services with increased efficiencies to citizens and other organizations. There are a few examples of an effective digital government being put into place, such as the recently launched healthcare marketplace at www.healthcare.gov, but digital government services are still not as prevalent nor are they as refined as they could be. While individuals expect robust online and mobile services in other areas of their lives, when it comes to interacting with the government individuals still face a mostly analog experience.

The ideal is a seamless series of digital interactions across government services where individuals log into one portal, are identified at login, and never need to enter data more than once. This level of integration is not easily achievable when agencies operate in silos. Integration will require a great deal of collaboration and cooperation across government.  The first step to that collaboration is working within each organization to develop a culture and set of tools to support innovation.

The October 2013 Harvard Business Review focuses on “radical” and “breakthrough” innovation through traditional research and development, but many organizations do not have the mission or funding to support such an approach to innovation. Without funding an explicit R&D function, it can be a challenge to create and pursue innovative ideas. The good news is that those within and close to the organization often have  some of the best ideas for improving the quality and cost effective delivery of government services. By tapping into these individuals, organizations can more easily – and at lower entry costs – get started on their innovation efforts. 

The individual workers within an organization and the stakeholders that interact with that organization are a rich field of ideas that, if tapped into, can provide the seeds of innovation to transform how an organization interacts internally and externally. However, the engagement needs to be managed beyond just a suggestion box. Additionally, it should be collaborative throughout the innovation lifecycle from idea generation to execution. Leaders and managers within the organization need to find ways to capture the ideas; evolve the ideas into something that can be effectively implemented; evaluate and prioritize; and then put the ideas into action working with stakeholders throughout that journey.

The good news is that technology can help organizations manage their pipeline of ideas and the interactions of stakeholders by putting in place a process and set of tools to support open innovation through crowdsourcing. Crowdsourcing tools help organizations with the collection, evolution, evaluation, and deployment of innovative technologies and services in a way that is inclusive of stakeholder perspectives while providing the management oversight and control needed to effectively innovate and deploy those innovations.

If government organizations can take the first step in cross-department collaboration by starting open innovation with their workers and stakeholders, then we might have a foundation for increased collaboration across government agencies. Building a culture of innovation and inclusion within each organization is an important first step in building the seamless, integrated digital experience many already have with non-government aspects of their daily lives.

[i] White House Press Release, July 8, 3013, Remarks by the President Presenting New Management Agenda