#DataReads: IBM’s “A Guide for Making Innovation Offices Work”

A recent report released by the IBM Center for The Business of Government, provides practical tips for federal, state, and local government executives looking to structure effective innovation initiatives of their own.

by Caitlin Fleming, Data-Smart City Solutions / February 12, 2015

This story was originally published by Data-Smart City Solutions.

How can government leaders foster a culture of innovation that delivers better, faster, and cheaper services to citizens? In recent years, a number of creative city, state and federal officials have created formal innovation offices dedicated to experimenting, taking calculated risks, and investing in new approaches to help government do its job more effectively.

The Pennsylvania Governor’s Innovation Office, for example, partners with agencies to improve customer service, save money, and increase efficiency in state government operations. Since January 2011, it has completed over 300 innovation initiatives resulting in nearly $700 million in savings to taxpayers. These projects range in scale from saving $1 million a year by switching to double-sided and black-and-white printing to saving $136 million over three years by renegotiating State employee pharmacy benefit contracts while maintaining high-quality benefits for employees.

Finding low cost, high impact opportunities like these requires a unique alignment of tools, resources and people. A recent report released by the IBM Center for The Business of Government, provides practical tips for federal, state, and local government executives looking to structure effective innovation initiatives of their own. In “A Guide for Making Innovation Offices Work,” Rachel Burstein of Books@Work and Alissa Black of Omidyar Network consolidate lessons on building and sustaining innovation offices from the front lines of government innovation. Burstein and Black interview 25 government leaders involved in the development of chief innovation officer posts or innovation offices at the federal, state, and local levels.

  • Define the mission and desired impact. The first step in setting up a government innovation office is to identify the goals for such an office. Most of the innovation offices examined in the report either sought internal impacts (e.g., greater cross-agency collaboration) or external impacts (e.g., greater transparency in government decision making).
  • Identify the resources. Assess the available resources, including financial and political support, to inform the appropriate innovation approach. Important resources include, but are not limited to, funding, internal partnerships, external partnerships, political support, technology, and staff. The report suggests that “tangible, steady, and certain commitment of resources” is essential from the outset.
  • Create the structure. The structure of innovation offices can take a variety of forms, and they often draw upon a hybrid of multiple structures, including:
  • Build the team. The report highlights investment in the team as one of the critical success factors for government innovation offices. Competent and flexible leadership with a keen understanding of how government works, along with meaningful access to top executives, can allow innovation offices to adapt and thrive over time.
  • Communicate effectively. Effectively communicating an innovation office’s activities, goals, and processes helps to “build trust, facilitate viable partnerships, and set expectations,” according to the report. Demonstrating the value and impact of the innovation office to internal and external audiences also helps to sustain necessary support.

Additional resources for executives looking for additional guidance on structuring effective innovation offices or chief innovation positions include: Bloomberg Philanthropies Innovation Teams; Presidential Innovation Fellows; and 10 Need-To-Know Lessons for Government Innovation Teams.

Figure 1. Tips from the Field