Chief Innovation Officer, Rhode Island; Former Director, Office of Educational Technology at the U.S. Department of Education
Richard Culatta is writing the playbook on how to move government technology forward in an innovative way. Throughout his career, he’s helped large government organizations including the CIA, the White House and the U.S. Department of Education take a fresh look at solving problems using technology.
“I think technology can be incredibly powerful when it’s used to really enable people to do things that are transformative,” Culatta said. “Where I’m less excited about technology is to simply digitize traditional practice.” While his playbook is still a work in progress, Culatta shared three key strategies he’s battle-tested during his career.
1. Grab quick wins. At the U.S. Department of Education, Culatta’s team built a story engine in a week, which allows schools to share and search for solutions to their education technology problems by region.
2. Go agile. Culatta advocates for an iterative approach to technology projects, keeping the development team engaged and working on continuous improvements. This can’t happen when developers are reassigned to other projects as soon as something is deemed “done.”
3. Recruit for innovation. Ask technically talented people in the field to become short-term innovation fellows. Many people won’t sign up for a long-term career in government, but they’re often willing to share their expertise for a year.
As Rhode Island’s first chief innovation officer, Culatta intends to create an innovation culture that crosses traditional government silos and tackles problems with new tools. He’ll be listening to people who are closest to the problems and making it easier for citizens to interact with government. He’s also focused on providing more computer science learning opportunities for students.
“One of the most important ways to create an innovation economy is to make sure that there are great learning opportunities,” he said.