Innovation is often viewed as the province of the private sector, but the current economic climate and other big challenges such as terrorism, energy policy and health care mean that government will need to become more innovative to tackle those challenges.
Already there are pockets of government innovation, including the “311” citizen complaint hotlines that started in Baltimore. (Call the number and you get the relevant agency person within 10 seconds.) But the innovation efforts are sporadic, piecemeal and easily torpedoed by entrenched stakeholders. The authors say widespread government innovation will require the following steps:
- Cultivate new ideas by engaging employees. For example, the U.S. Transportation Security Agency’s “Idea Factory” is a secure intranet that allows employees to submit ideas for improving agency operations and processes. Employees have submitted some 4,500 ideas — and 20 have been implemented.
- Replicate the great ideas from other federal and state agencies — customizing them to meet local needs. The Texas Performance Review “has saved the state billions of dollars over the years by searching far and wide for innovations that can be applied to Texas government.”
- Establish partnerships among government agencies and between government, private industry, universities and nonprofits to generate new resources and new ideas. “When New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg wanted to transform the city’s under-performing public school system, he used partnerships to launch innovative pilot programs and sidestep organizational logjams.”
My view: The biggest challenge of all will be creating a “culture of innovation” inside the bureaucracy. It’s not certain that this is even possible (bureaucracy and innovation do seem mutually exclusive). But the nation’s challenges are so great that we’ll need to try. As the article concludes: “This will be difficult, and government will not likely acquire a reputation for innovation next month or even next year. Someday, however, innovative government may roll off the tongue naturally.”