How Collaboration Leads to Public-Sector Innovation

Innovation is a perennial buzzword in government and technology circles, but it’s not easy to come by when government is used to doing things in traditional ways -- and it doesn’t come without risk.

by / September 22, 2014

Public-private partnerships are popular in government, but the public sector shouldn’t forget partnering with other governments as well. A few speakers at the Governing California Leadership Forum, held this month in Sacramento, spoke about collaboration, including how governments can learn from other governments’ experiences.

“I think the best thing they can do is talk to each other. Work together, collaborate, find out what other similar-sized cities or similar states have done and share the ideas, share the resources, share the stories, share the process, share the technology,” said Sarah Granger, founder of the Center for Technology, Media & Society. “Anything they can do to make it easier for each other will help everyone do better and move forward.”

But many jurisdictions eventually meet with start-ups and corporations to solve problems. 

“I think the opportunity for both parties, both private sector and the government sector, is to find ways that they can look at problems that are big problems for people, for citizens, and that they can solve together,” said Peter Sims, co-founder of Fuse Corps, an organization that partners start-ups with public-sector leaders for technology projects. “For example, parking is a big problem, potholes are a big problem. How can we use creative solutions to solve those problems in new ways, and how can we find ways for government and the for-profit sector to work in a collaborative manner on addressing those problems?”

Innovation is a perennial buzzword in government and technology circles, but it’s not easy to come by when government is used to doing things in traditional ways -- and it doesn’t come without risk. 

“Innovation’s such a challenging topic because it can mean so many different things," Granger said, adding that she thinks government has been innovating in many ways, "but a lot of [the] time, we don’t notice what that means. If you’re talking about technology innovation, it’s definitely been an area where government has been slow to adopt."

But it is definitely increasing, she said, "and there’s so much now that’s happening at all levels of government, and great examples of that locally, statewide and at the federal level. I think, just in the last 10 years, we’ve made a lot of progress.” 

According to Sims, public-sector employees often need to be risk takers to get technology projects off the ground. 

“That takes leadership from the public sector, and it takes leadership from entrepreneurs to say, ‘You know what? This isn’t going to be maybe the easiest process to go through.' There’s going to be a lot of risk aversion,” Sims said. “There’s going to be a lot of potential barriers that exist in government, but you know what? We’re going to benefit society. We’re going to open up an opportunity that’s potentially going to lead to a lot of value for both private sector and citizens in the long-term, so I think that collaboration is really at the heart of what can help this country get back on the right track.” 

 

Hilton Collins

Hilton Collins is a former staff writer for Government Technology and Emergency Management magazines.