Bootcast Podcast With Ideascale CEO Rob Hoehn – Innovating for the Federal Government

Collaboration and innovation drive governments.

Governments will face profound challenges over the next few months and years as they address the pandemic, the economy, and demands for social progress. Innovation strategy and management are going to be fundamental to nimble thought, coordinated action, and constituent satisfaction. 

Ideascale CEO Rob Hoehn recently went on the BootCast from Romi Mahajan and Vivek Bhaskaran. As Vivek was one of the founders of Ideascale, and currently sits on the board, the two have a unique perspective on government innovation.

From The Beginning

Ideascale has been working with government since its early days. “We knew some people on Obama’s tech transition team,” Hoehn notes, “and when he got into office in his first hundred days…he wrote the Open Government letter, requiring all the major federal agencies to basically basically expand participation with their constituents.” 

The General Service Administration (GSA) was asked to choose a few startups that could assist government agencies with crowdsourcing and constituent outreach, and Ideascale, which was just a small startup, was one of those. And it was up against Facebook, Twitter, and others. They were “terrified,” Hoehn laughs, remembering that first call with himself and Bhaskaran on the line.

Government is central to our lives, and innovation is central to government.

However, there was a stumbling block; this wasn’t going to be a paid contract, so the question was, how can we get the most out of it for everyone involved? “Startups in the early days [consider these contracts] because you’re really hungry to get the brand out there,” Hoehn recalls, “But you’re also hungry for dollars and you have to make that choice…[ultimately] we just said, look, we’re not taking our logo or the URL off these communities. We’re doing this for free for you.”

That was the key lesson in government innovation strategy, that the platform can be just as much of a stakeholder as well as a vendor. And taking that stand paid off. Government innovation has grown into a major segment for Ideascale, with several major federal agencies such as the Coast Guard using the platform. The question, however, was “then what?” Hoehn says it was a learning process as the company grew quickly, and it became a question of keeping the customer happy over the long term.

Looking To The Future

When it comes to understanding what government clients need, it pays to look closely at who’s participating, inside the organization and outside “We learn what [users of the platform] are doing in their work. Where are they in their organization? How’s the organization doing overall? It’s a ton of work,” laughs Hoehn. But it pays off. As Ideascale has gotten to better understand the needs of its government clients, and who they serve, it’s been able to give them a custom approach and help them through the sometimes complicated innovation process.

It also helps to look to the future. Unlike a business, which can pick and choose its customers, government needs to speak to, and listen to everyone. “We’ve done a lot with natural language processing lately, and we’ve realized that a little bit of machine learning, mixed with the crowd is actually a really beautiful combination,” Hoehn explains. “We can direct people towards a goal, so we can be the curator.”

See how Ideascale can help you build a better government innovation strategy: contact us!

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