Encouraging and Sustaining Innovation in Government

By Beth Noveck and Stefaan Verhulst (Jan 2016)

According to a 2015 survey by Pew Research Center, the public believes existing democratic institutions are failing. Just 20 percent say the federal government runs its programs well, and 59 percent say the government is in need of “very major reform”—up 22 points since 1997(1). With rates of trust in government at an all-time low, technology and innovation will be essential to achieve the next administration’s goals and to deliver services more effectively and effciently. The next administration must prioritize using technology to improve governing and must develop plans to do so in the transition.

The IBM Center for The Business of Government and The Partnership for Public Service hosted a discussion, The Ready to Govern Innovation Roundtable. Moderated by Professor Stephen Goldsmith, the event convened an exceptional group of 35 current and former senior offcials from both parties, leaders from Capitol Hill, as well as experts from academia and the private and nonprofit sectors for a wideranging discussion on how the federal government can use technology to achieve the next president’s policy priorities regarding economic growth, immigration, national security and responding to natural disasters.

This paper provides analysis and a set of concrete recommendations, both for the period of transition before the inauguration, and for the start of the next presidency, to encourage and sustain innovation in government. Leveraging the insights from the experts who participated in a day-long discussion, we endeavor to explain how government can improve its use of using digital technologies to create more effective policies, solve problems faster and deliver services more effectively at the federal, state and local levels.

Part I of this report presents observations and recommendations from a wide-ranging roundtable discussion on government innovation. The roundtable focused on: effciency and effectiveness; the customer experience; citizen engagement; and innovation through leadership and talent, process, scale and governance. Talent emerged as a key challenge – the difficulty of bringing people into government, and in harnessing the creative talent of civil servants currently serving. Participants agreed that the next administration would be well advised to focus on talent as a key enabler for driving innovation.

Part II takes stock of past experiences in the use of technology and innovation in government. The next administration will have the opportunity to build on progress from past administrations – from President George W. Bush’s e-government initiatives to the many efforts undertaken by the Obama administration. Despite significant obstacles, including obsolete infrastructure and a patchwork of policies, considerable progress has been made along three government-wide and agencyspecific dimensions.

The final part offers a series of five broad recommendations and 10 specific and implementable actions to institutionalize a culture of innovation.

Scale data-driven governance and collaborative experiments. Given the proliferation of open-data and data-driven governance initiatives over the past few years, the challenge facing the next administration lies in effectively analyzing this data to find meaningful operational insights and improvements.  The next generation of innovation will come from the development of platforms, policies and personnel that scale the capacity of the government to use available data meaningfully and efficiently to improve processes and services.

A commitment to scaling innovation includes not just analyzing data, but enabling greater use of available human intelligence.  Improving effective citizen engagement — from aligning thoughtful user experiences with agency missions to addressing regulatory barriers and inflexibilities that limit engagement opportunities — is key to enabling diverse participation.  Enterprise platforms have the potential to improve service delivery and expand opportunities while automating basic capabilities such as enrollment or eligibility calculations.

Promote a government-wide culture of innovation, experimentation and customer service. The next administration can embrace experimentation while embedding and institutionalizing innovation and technology skills across the federal government.  These capabilities can be leveraged to apply agencies’ own data to help them realize operational improvement and then measure those improvements. Federal institutions can become more transparent and use standard infrastructure and language to facilitate engagement and interaction, while creating more flexible hiring and training processes to accelerate the development of necessary skills in the government.

Become more evidence-based in using technology to solve problems. While the government has an array of advanced research programs, these capabilities could be directed more frequently to address government performance challenges.  The next administration can establish and support a structured approach to apply these innovative research programs to the functioning of government.  Additionally, federal oversight organizations can transform their focus to enable innovation.

Incorporate innovation into the transition. The transition period, which lasts through Jan. 20, 2017, presents a powerful opportunity to drive innovation into substantive policy agendas and the delivery of services.  At both the government-wide and agency-specific levels, technology-enabled capabilities can be initiated during the transition to support the goals and priorities established by the new administration.

By building on progress that has been made and effectively utilizing the tools and levers in the federal government, the next administration can institutionalize the use of technology to enhance government innovation and effectiveness. The transition teams can accelerate these efforts by thinking strategically about how to implement an innovation agenda within agencies and through government-wide initiatives. The transition team can also make innovation a priority in the selection of appointees and in providing a clear agenda for action.

Read the article in Federal Computer Week.

Read the article in Federal News Radio.

Watch the Government Matters television segment from News Channel 8.