The United States Coast Guard is a branch of the United States Armed Forces responsible for protecting US waterways, ports and shorelines by enforcing US laws and serving as a first responder on the water. The Coast Guard employs 40,992 full-time active-duty service members along with 7,000 part-time reservists, 8,577 civilians and 31,000 Coast Guard Auxiliary volunteers.

Andy Howell is a retired Coast Guard Commander and former Innovation Officer, and currently serves as a consultant to the Coast Guard’s Innovation Program. As the Coast Guard’s former Innovation Officer, Andy was responsible for writing policies and strategy documents, helping to make the Coast Guard more innovative, and selling people on ideas.


As within any large organization, championing new practices can be difficult. “You need to fight for change and make a case for it,” noted Andy. “People know that changes need to be made, but you’re just so in the tyranny of the present that you can’t even imagine changing the organization.” And change doesn’t come from one person; it needs to come from the inner-workings of an organization.

To make the Coast Guard more innovative, Andy’s team needed a way to find great ideas out in the fleet and be able to communicate those ideas to decision-makers so that they could solve enterprise problems. USCG did not have effective employee engagement tools that allowed them to ask questions and get feedback. “We needed a way to capture ideas and engage employees so we could let the workforce know that we’re listening to them,” Andy mentioned.

Prior to switching to IdeaScale, USCG was using a SharePoint spreadsheet as a large database of ideas where users could view submissions—but they couldn’t add comments to them, collaborate on projects, or find ways to easily put ideas into action.

They needed a better approach.

US Coast Guard


The Coast Guard brought in IdeaScale in 2015, and has been using the platform ever since. They currently have over 15,000 users in their community. What have they accomplished?

How about lives saved.

In 2017, the US experienced one of the worst hurricane seasons on record, and the Coast Guard found themselves mired in slow, outdated lessons learned processes for sharing best practices. “We should’ve called them ‘lessons identified,’ rather than lessons learned because we hadn’t learned anything,” Andy said.

But enough was enough, and to modernize how they shared best practices, the Coast Guard launched a Hurricane Lessons Learned campaign through their CG_Ideas@Work crowdsourcing platform. Instead of disparate emails, text messages, and even—yes—pen and paper, members could now share ideas in a single place, regardless of geography.

The result: hurricane first responders shared life-saving ideas with each other.

For example, one member shared an idea to monitor social media after seeing distress signals on Instagram. Another shared an idea for better mobile tech in disaster areas. Another shared an idea to improve location targeting. The list went on and on, and the result was better service to the American people in times of emergency.

And after that first Hurricane Lessons Learned challenge, the US Coast Guard made them annual—in fact, they launch one on the first of June every year!

Foster a Culture of Innovation

The Coast Guard uses IdeaScale’s crowdsourcing platform to break communication barriers, build collaboration across the organization, bring employees into strategic plan conversations, and get their feedback and ideas to help inform policy and operations.

Build Engagement and Get Buy-in for Decisions

By using IdeaScale to ask for feedback, Coast Guard leadership is getting stakeholder buy-in and creating strong advocates.

Eliminate Administrative Burdens

Instead of months, it takes just weeks for the Coast Guard to get ideas & feedback from the workforce. Instead of using a spreadsheet with a long list of ideas, the Coast Guard is using IdeaScale’s platform to share ideas, add comments, and collaborate on the implementation of top-performing ideas.

Let's Transform Government Together!

IdeaScale is an innovation management solution that links organizations to people with ideas.

Solutions for nonprofits