How to Lead Innovation in Government Agencies

Capital building.
Innovation can start at any level of government.

Innovation in government is what changes history. As we’ve figured out better, more efficient, and fairer ways to govern ourselves, our world has changed for the better around us. However, government-level innovation is by necessity a complicated thing. Here’s how to make sense of it and develop more effective strategies.

Develop Clear Goals And Steps

Managing government innovation is often about making it clear what you want to do, and how you want to do it. Often you’ll be asked not only what you’re planning to achieve, but the steps you’ll take to get there and the impact of those steps. Being able to make clear precisely what you intend to do (and why) will both help build support and bolster community involvement.

Seek External Partners

While some challenges are unique to government, many of them aren’t. Take document control. Private law firms have just as much need to know who’s looking at what as any government agency and have developed solutions for that need that can very easily be built into public services. Before taking any steps, look for solutions that can be easily incorporated and save a step or two. That said, discuss your needs carefully with external partners; for example, a private company probably will not have to deal with information requests in the same way your department does.

Group of three colleagues sitting around a table discussing information on documents.
The best innovation begins by working together.

Small Steps First

One of the stronger challenges government innovation faces is that even the smallest town is still a large concern where changes can affect hundreds of people. Incremental innovation will be the place to start, not just because it’ll be easier to get the smaller wins, but because you can use it to build larger changes and test impacts before moving on to the next one. “Rome wasn’t built in a day” is a cliched saying, but it’s a true one in government innovation.

Everyone’s Your Stakeholder

Government touches everyone. Even the most obscure department can have profound effects on the daily life of citizens. Any innovation process needs a diverse set of viewpoints drawn from inside and outside both the government and the organization. These can take multiple forms such as community meetings, listening sessions, committee appointments, and departmental reviews, so pick some methods that fit the innovation. This cuts both ways. Listening to citizens will be key to determining which innovations matter most, and which can be set aside for later. Meeting urgent needs will always be more popular, and often more effective.

Support Matters

Support for innovation from the top is important. Both elected officials and experienced public servants should back the innovation initiatives by keeping informed, attending meetings, and publicly supporting the initiatives. They should also be informed of your process, step by step (what’s being considered, what’s been set aside, and why). Remember, they’ll often be asked questions by voters and community representatives about your initiatives, and they can be your best advocate in the community.

Innovation is fundamental for government, and each government will need to develop its own approach to what works. To learn more about governmental innovation, contact us!

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