Rhode Island Innovation Officer Richard Culatta Departs, Heads to Education Nonprofit

The man behind Rhode Island’s push to innovate government is leaving state service for a job with an international education nonprofit.

Richard Culatta, Rhode Island’s chief innovation officer, will leave the state for a job with an international education organization in Washington, D.C., it was announced April 5.

Culatta, who was appointed by Gov. Gina Raimondo in January 2016 as the eastern state’s first innovation officer, told Government Technology that he had been tapped to lead the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) as its CEO effective in early May.

Though the innovator with a soft spot for ed tech said moving on from Rhode Island is bittersweet, the role was never supposed to be a permanent position.

“From the beginning, we knew I was the startup guy, I was sort of always coming in to get this off the ground, and we knew that at some point we’d need to hand it off to somebody who’d be the longer-term leader for this work,” he said. “What we don’t know is exactly what form the office will take.”

Culatta, named a Government Technology Top 25 Doer, Dreamer and Driver in 2016, said both the name of his replacement and exactly how the next iteration of the Innovation Office will look remain a mystery for the time being. But the undertaking has grown significantly since the days when it was just him trying to get traction and outline a strategy. How it evolves moving forward, he said, is anyone’s guess.

But Culatta, who previously served as the director of the Office of Educational Technology at the U.S. Department of Education under the Obama administration, made an impact during his time with the state. Just last month, for instance, officials set in motion a plan to take mid-level managers out of their offices and pair them with their counterparts throughout 10 other typically siloed state agencies. Culatta was behind the effort, called the Government Innovation League.

In addition to a new challenge in a new organization, Culatta said the nonprofit role also comes with the opportunity to work with an engaged and invested international community of educators and technologists to tackle bigger problems. 

“What I am really looking to do is, and I think part of the reason the board brought me on, was to really strengthen the membership base and try to extend the ability to provide solutions for tough problems even more broadly in the U.S. and internationally,” he said.

As for which aspects of his former roles will be useful as the point man for ISTE, Culatta said he sees his work around community engagement to solve big issues as a valuable tool to meet the demands of his new post.

“One of the things that the work that I have done with Rhode Island has really taught me is how to engage citizens around tackling important issues. How do you crowdsource solutions?” he said. “A lot of our work involved either challenges or prizes or hackathons, all approaches that are about taking a problem and offering it up to a large group of citizens to come together and work together to solve those problems. That is an incredibly powerful lever, and I think it’s one of the things I will be taking to ISTE to think about how we do that same thing.”

Eyragon Eidam is the Web editor for Government Technology magazine, after previously serving as assistant news editor and covering such topics as legislation, social media and public safety. He can be reached at eeidam@erepublic.com.