Overview: The Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s (NRC) innovation team shares how they used crowdsourcing to diversify their approach to innovation, combined organic innovation with innovation challenges, how leadership drove innovation, their unique rewards and recognition program, and the challenges the current moment presents.
What Is the NRC?
The NRC was founded by Congress in 1974 to ensure radioactive materials were used safely and for the benefit of American citizens while protecting people and the environment. In short, if it involves radioactivity and civilians, the NRC is involved.
While nuclear power plants are their most visible role, their brief can be surprisingly wide-ranging. It includes medical facilities, universities, and logistics hubs, with jobs that include fire protection, workplace safety, stakeholder outreach, and even dealing with counterfeit materials. And all of this is conducted while needing to stay informed on the latest in nuclear physics and technology, both of which have rapidly accelerated as fields in the last decade.
In that context, the NRC requires powerful innovation to meet its brief. And the agency’s staff took to the challenge.
The NRC’s innovation program started with a voluntary program created by staff called the Idea Greenhouse. As the initiative expanded, it became so popular that in 2017 it was formalized as an organization-wide initiative, InnovateNRC.
Built on the IdeaScale platform, InnovateNRC is designed to both share ideas and encourage their development and growth. Ideas can be solicited through crowdsourcing, shared spontaneously, or documented and discussed as they’re applied in the field. It also broadened access to everyone in NRC operations, which are widely distributed across the country, and in a number of different roles. InnovateNRC was reiterated recently as InnovateNRC 2.0 to broaden its reach and to collect ideas organically as well as through contests and challenges.
This became especially important as the last year has unfolded. The COVID-19 pandemic required the agency to swiftly change internal operations and external requirements, making innovation and collaboration central to a rapid response. It presented coordination, regulatory enforcement, and safety challenges, all under time pressure and amid changing circumstances. As the pandemic becomes about managing cases instead of social distancing, that will bring new challenges.
During a webinar with IdeaScale, the NRC discussed the recent launch of InnovateNRC 2.0, their recent iteration of the program, and some of the lessons they’ve learned about crowdsourcing innovation and developing ideas over the last few years.
They explored why diversity in innovation is so crucial to their mission, what NRC leaders have learned to drive innovation and let the team take the wheel when needed, how to foster organic innovation in a regulatory environment, and look at some innovation challenges they’ve run. Watch the webinar replay here to hear how they were able to achieve a 70% engagement rate and attribute an ROI to their ideas.