Taking the innovation office government-wide

Photo: White House/Pete Souza
Photo: White House/Pete Souza

There’s a great Code for America Summit talk from Philadelphia Chief Data Officer Tim Wisniewski on what they’re doing to build a city-wide culture of innovation, including a physical open space office where anyone can work, a $100,000 internal innovation fund and tapping into external talent.

What I like about the office space idea is that it begins to create the sense of fluidity and mobility that’s important in serendipitous encounters that help generate new ideas and extend community beyond just one particular office. Physical space is an important aspect of innovation (as is attire) and, hopefully, these types of “labs” inspire a trend towards open office design within government.

There’s a significant amount of focus from the innovation crowd on attracting outside talent, but it’s important to keep in mind that there are extremely bright and gregarious people working on the inside that aren’t acknowledged as such or being given the freedom to innovate. Given that they are more attuned and accustomed to the inner workings of government, and less likely to become easily disenchanted, they are a much better resource to tap into. Often we hear that if you really want to change government, you need to work in it. While I disagree with that sentiment, I think it’s extremely important to maintain an internal culture of innovation, and we’re still seeing a low retention rate of fellows, tapped externally, deciding to work for government.

The other aspect of government innovation initiatives concerns the process of communicating their value. The biggest value and best way to communicate the importance of an innovation initiative is through the process. Government innovation efforts continue to fail on the open knowledge front and often rely on a push approach that entails the press office, press releases and final product launch-type blog posts. Government leaders should really get into the practice of publicly chronicling what they’re doing, what they’ve done, and what they learned that will help them do better.

Much of the sharing on these efforts is around code dumped into a repo, but open knowledge and insight into process is the best visibility into public innovation that citizens could ask for.

As Tim says in response to an audience member’s question on the subject:

“Most importantly, we could do some really great things here, but if we don’t get the word out about it enough, people are just going to remember the money we spent.”

More of my thoughts on government innovation here, but I really enjoyed Tim’s presentation and the follow-up Q&A and wanted to share.

Watch Tim’s talk:

About Luke Fretwell

Luke Fretwell is the founder of GovFresh. He is also co-founder and CEO of ProudCity. Connect with him on Twitter and LinkedIn or email at luke@govfresh.com.

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