- The General Services Administration (GSA) founded the 10X program in 2017 to internally crowdsource ideas and new approaches.
- The GSA’s 10X program has been successful due to transparency, accepting failure as part of the process, and a willingness to discuss why ideas didn’t work.
Providing the government with what it needs is an enormous job, and the General Services Administration (GSA) needs new and innovative ways to do this. Here’s how the GSA finds new ideas and uses ideas that didn’t work to launch better ones.
What Is The General Services Administration?
The GSA ensures that government employees have what they need to do their jobs. Everything from the pens at their desks to the office space employees work out of is bought and delivered by the GSA.
It’s also required to find as many cost efficiencies as possible without compromising the quality of either products or work. This makes the GSA a procurement office, logistics company, property manager, and auditor all in one across one of the most complex organizations on Earth.
This responsibility demands constant innovation, and the GSA’s strategy has evolved rapidly in response.
Launching Innovation With “The Great Pitch”
In 2015, the GSA held what was intended to be a one-off event called “The Great Pitch.” Hosted by the agency’s Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies, the idea was inspired by funding rounds in the VC sector. People would come in to pitch their ideas to find efficiencies,, and the GSA would quickly commit a small amount of funding to test the idea, expanding it if they saw results.
The event was so popular that it quickly became an ongoing program. It led to ideas such as the open-source repository Code.Gov; the U.S. Web Design System, which created a set of standards. And It practices to make government websites easier to use and mobile-friendly, and Login.Gov, which consolidates login credentials for the public. So they can use the same email and password for sites such as USAJobs and the U.S. Small Business Administration.
The innovation hub called 10X would be formally established in 2018. In later years, the initiative formalized a four-step process with rising levels of fiscal and time commitment.
- The first step is feasibility, where the viability of the idea and the need for it is tested over several weeks.
- Second, the idea is looked at through the lens of regulation and market needs and whether it can be scaled up enough to make it worth the commitment.
- The third phase is alpha testing, which involves developing a prototype with other government agencies to ensure it’s a viable product.
- The fourth phase is beta testing, which means rolling out the product to a larger group and seeing if it will scale up.
The ultimate goal is a product, process, or procedure that makes the biggest difference for the most people. The agency is looking for what it’s nicknamed “dark matter”. Or elements and ideas that they find during the process that might lead to unexpected ideas.
The process is so effective that in 2021, 22 different ideas were being explored on topics ranging from data science to civil rights education. The GSA has learned a few lessons over the last six years that explain their success.
Pick A Focused Crowd
The GSA’s 10X program draws from federal civil service. This is based on the belief that the people who work with government products and processes every day best understand how they could better serve the public.
Start Small And Build
Every one of the 10X projects the GSA has launched started with a small commitment of resources, mostly money and time, to test the idea out before launching it. Part of this is the unique mandate of government innovation. Since every citizen is a stakeholder, and it’s ultimately their money being spent, care with resources and the progression of ideas are built into the concept.
However, this also allows them to fill in the “negative space” issues around innovation. They learn what stakeholders they need to speak to and what needs should be met before moving forward.
The first two phases of the process take an absolute maximum of five months. This offers two benefits. The first is that if an idea doesn’t work, it can be archived. Lessons learned can be drawn from it, and those involved can move on.
The second is that feedback on ideas comes quickly. Ideas aren’t thrown into a suggestion box and disappear. They’re considered and brought forward fast, demonstrating that ideas are valued and driving more engagement.
Don’t Be Afraid To Pull The Plug
If an idea doesn’t work, the 10X team makes it clear that it’s the end of the process. However, while there are no guarantees, the “dark matter” policy discussed above ensures that there are no failures. Every idea and its results are discussed transparently, making it easier to understand when an idea’s journey ends and why.
Iteration is built into the process, making it easier for others to offer new ideas. The 10X team notes that just because an idea doesn’t work for their process doesn’t mean the idea doesn’t work. It may just need a different home. In fact, one of the most common reasons an idea doesn’t move forward is the GSA has been beaten to it, and it’s in development elsewhere in the government.
Government innovation programs like 10X have plenty to teach any organization looking to build a powerful innovation strategy. To learn more, request a demo.