Many times, people associate innovation with a big technological advancement or scientific breakthrough, but in reality, innovation can be a small idea that just needs to be brought to life. In the July 2016 cover story of The Public Manager, “A Space to Innovate,” we talked with Susannah Fox, chief technology officer at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Fox talks about the importance of innovation in government and shares how the IDEA Lab is working to bring great ideas to life." We need to find ways for HHS to create small experiments and use more entrepreneurial methodologies to do our work better. That's what innovation means here," she said.
Fox strongly believes that there needs to be a place where people who have an idea can go to talk through the challenges and pain points surrounding it. That's what IDEA Lab is for. It is a space in HHS where staff can bring their ideas and develop a plan for how to bring them to fruition. Agencies are beginning to follow HHS's lead on innovation, and some are even getting citizens involved in the process.
In the Perspectives article, “Sparking Innovation in Government,” Juliana K. Cyril, director of the Office of Technology and Innovation at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, asks some really compelling questions: "How do we make innovation accessible to staff at any level within a federal agency? How do we engender confidence in our employees to explore innovative ideas while still delivering our mission-directed responsibilities? How do we make the case for innovation knowing that it sometimes means asking people to take a leap of faith?"
"We've come to realize that to spark innovation within our workforce we need to make it easily accessible and scalable to ideas and projects at varying stages," she writes. "The Department of Health and Human Services' Ignite Accelerator is a good example of a program that requires that teams only have an idea, even just a nascent one, for which they wish to test new products, services, and processes that could dramatically improve the way their office or agency carries out its mission."
Agencies cannot succeed in the future without innovation, and Cyril argues, "for [agencies] to succeed in meeting public challenges, we need not only a workforce that is trained in and encouraged to harness innovation and entrepreneurship tools and methods but new and diverse partners to help us capture opportunities, create value, and invent entirely new ways to serve the public."