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Google Reveals its Innovation Lab for Government

Google plans to institutionalize innovation through a mobile innovation lab that combines its suite of apps with motivated government innovators.

Those who know of Google likely know in one way or another of the Google X Innovation Lab -- a place where inventions like driverless cars, Google Glass and project Loon, a program to deliver cell connectivity by way of high-altitude balloons, were born. And now, the Silicon Valley giant plans to apply this kind of inventive thinking to the public sector, through its Google Government Innovation Lab.

The undertaking points a team of leaders and innovators at a specific government challenge, and equips them with 25 Google Chromebooks, as well as access to Google’s suite of government apps and enterprise mapping services.

The lab concept, revealed at Google's headquarters in a meeting with California officials on Jan. 8, is designed to be entirely mobile, said James Waterman, Google’s regional manager for state and local government. There are no brick-and-mortar buildings required, and Google doesn't assign its government app licenses to specific individuals. Rather, access is awarded based on duties. Likewise, with Chromebooks designed to keep data in the cloud, there’s no chance information can be isolated to one user.

“The end goal is to enable the government organization to innovate well and often, to be great leaders of innovation,” Waterman said.

Still in a “fine-tuning” stage at Google, the lab has already launched in a few jurisdictions for testing. And, based on success, Waterman said a goal is to eventually open it up to other government organizations as a safe haven for innovative problem solving.

“The innovation labs are the logical next step,” Waterman said, referring to Google’s engagement in government.

A major concept employed in the lab's format is Google’s use of “self-organizing” teams, a principle that organizes participants by roles — as opposed to the typical chain of command, boss-to-employee type structure. The organizational style assumes that if a group of motivated individuals are focused on a common objective, they’ll naturally organize actions to solve a problem. The idea has been popularized by forward-thinking startups, and most notably by Zappos, which uses it as a template for management.

Google has given no timeline for when the program will be officially launched; however, Waterman said he was pleased with a number of use cases for the initiative and expects more news of the program in the near future.

Jason Shueh is a former staff writer for Government Technology magazine.