Yesterday the government technology market was abuzz regarding the announcement of the Govtech Fund. The GovTech Fund is a 23 million dollar venture capital fund established to provide investment funding for startups within the government technology market. Raising capital for companies that build solutions for government is no easy task, but this announcement shows that the market is in the midst of a major transition. Over the past year, there are been an increasing number of notable investments in government technology companies, starting with a 15 million dollar investment by Andreessen Horowitz in OpenGov. As the market continues to expand, the Govtech Fund’s specialized-focus will lend it to being an invaluable resource for startups that set their sites on building technology to solve problems for government.
If innovation could be summed up in ten simple steps every organization would already be doing it. That is not the case, although many articles will try to explain it that way. This is not one of them. Innovation is a complex topic and contrary to popular belief, is not the undertaking of a single individual. Innovation is not some mysterious quality that only a gifted few have. We are all naturally innovative if given the opportunity.
Innovation broken down to its simplest definition is the introduction of new ways to handle situations or problems that provide a better result than the current methods. This can be as simple as taking an unnecessary step out of an everyday process or as complex as creating a new product or service that enhances the lives of everyone it touches.
The question is not “how do we be innovative” but instead “how can we be more innovative?” Innovation is already taking place in every organization but the level of innovation varies from organization to organization. The beauty is that there is no such thing as too much innovation, therefore, every organization can benefit by being more innovative.
The question then becomes, how do we be more innovative? The answer lies in an innovation strategy. There are four major components to an innovation strategy outlined in this article. For many organizations this will be a significant pivot from the way they currently do business. No matter how many books you read on innovation and how many creative thinkers you hire, you will not reach your full potential without implementing these top strategies first.
Creating a Culture of Innovation
Innovation is an organizational mindset. It requires that you trust your employees, reward their accomplishments and allow them to be human. There are many things you can do to help foster a culture of innovation but trust, recognition and training opportunities are at the top of the list.
The Importance of Trust
The most important characteristic you will find in every highly innovative organization is trust. This is also the most overlooked component in an innovation strategy. Individuals have to feel like they are trusted by leadership to do the right things and thereby allowed to make reasonable mistakes. If your employees have to justify everything they do, every resource that they need and worry about repercussions on every error that they make, then there is a lack of trust in the organization.
Problems with trust vary from organization to organization but it is the responsibility of the leadership to find and alleviate them. You have to find a way to give employees the ability to speak up and make manageable errors. These are requirements for rapid innovation. Innovation is a process of trial and error and by giving individuals the freedom to speak up and make mistakes they are able to fail and learn from those mistakes more quickly.
Recognize Your Innovators
Recognizing innovators can be tricky because most of the time they do not see themselves as innovators. Many people that classify themselves as innovators are actually just disrupters. Disruption is a different topic and can be positive if done correctly but it is not synonymous with innovation.
Chances are that you are not going to have visibility into the details of everything that goes on inside of an organization. Therefore, you have to rely on individuals to identify innovation and determine the appropriate recognition. Building trust and promoting strong relationships within the organization will go a long way to identifying who is doing the innovative things. If someone does not feel threatened they are much more likely to share good things about others.
When innovation is spotted, recognition can be as simple as a half day off, a thank you or even additional responsibilities. The important thing here is the recognition. It can really hurt morale if an employee feels like he or she is going above and beyond their duties and it is not appreciated. It seems simple, but remember, the people that are doing the innovation may not even realize it. They may not be outspoken about their accomplishments or feel that they helped in only some minor capacity and don’t deserve the credit. That is why you have to take a proactive approach to identifying innovation.
Provide Training Opportunities
Transforming a business process or implementing a new program or service usually requires that the person doing the transforming have a good understanding of what is involved. Training is important because it opens up the doorway to actually achieving innovation. You can have an idea on how to change the world but without the proper knowledge to be able to make those changes happen, it is just an idea.
Training also sparks creativity because the mind is thinking about all of the possibilities of the new found knowledge. Training on one subject can lead to innovation in a completely unrelated area because it can form a new frame of thought around an already existing situation. Cross-training can be extremely beneficial because it provides an outside perspective and allows for dialog.
There are many ways to reduce training costs but still train your employees on a variety of topics. There is cross-training, train-the-trainer approaches and the ability to partner with other organizations to host training to share costs. Providing training can also build trust and relationships with employees, so it is something you want to consider seriously.
Don’t Rush Innovation
Sustainable innovation happens in small manageable bites. You cannot change the entire organization in a day and you cannot become extremely innovative without progressing through the lower stages of innovation. The important step is to start.
Defining the Innovation Advocate
Up to this point we have talked about day-to-day innovation that mostly happens internally. While I believe that day-to-day innovation makes the real difference, there is still room for large scale innovation projects and innovation that comes from external stakeholders. To handle this type of innovation you need an innovation advocate or an innovation team that can manage the innovation. This advocate will also play a big role in the recognition and promotion of the innovation program. Below is the role of this individual or team in the innovation process.
The process of gathering ideas is fairly straight forward but can be as simple or complex as you want to make it. When trying to solve a problem through innovation you have to be very clear on the problem you are trying to solve and be open to new ideas that may need to be nurtured into a viable solution.
The first part of gathering ideas is to create a submission process. That could be as simple as an email or as sophisticated as a rewards based voting system. Once an idea is received it needs to be vetted and discussed to determine its viability. If the idea makes it through this stage then you can progress to the next stage – selling the idea to the rest of the stakeholders.
One of the main reasons it is important to have an innovation advocate is because ideally, that person would have a good understanding of the organization and the relationships to keep things moving forward. When selling an idea you need to focus on the need that the idea fulfills and the benefits it provides. You must also have a plan to take the idea from conception through implementation. Selling ideas can be difficult in an organization that is change adverse but if the things above do not work you can also try explaining the opportunities that are lost if you do not move forward.
Assist in Idea Implementation
Implementing an idea usually falls back on the business unit but the innovation advocate still has some responsibilities during this process. First, they need to continue to build excitement about the idea and communicate the status of the ongoing implementation. It is also important to recognize short-term wins throughout the implementation so that excitement and motivation persist throughout the project. Lastly, you will want to make sure and document any stories or case studies that come out of implementing the new idea. These can be used later when you are trying to sell future ideas.
Partner With Technology
Not all innovation is technology focused, but in today’s world technology plays a significant role. This has led to many organizations trying to align technology with the business. This approach treats technology as a tool to accomplish innovation. Technology is not just a tool to achieve innovation, it is a catalyst for innovation. By partnering with your technology group you turn it into a value center instead of a cost center and this is required in a highly innovative organization. Partnering with technology may require a few adjustments but it is mostly changes in mindset, not business structure. Here are some ways that you can partner with technology.
Seat at the Executive Table
The reach of technology in most organizations is already large and seems to be growing every day. This makes it a requirement that technology leaders have a holistic view of everything that is going on in the organization. Technology is also transforming many areas of business at a rapid rate. Without a view into the high-level initiatives, objectives and problems the organization is facing, technology cannot be used effectively as a resource.
Involvement in Planning
If your technology leader is given a seat at the executive table then they will probably already be involved in planning. The importance of involving technology in planning is to stay aware of current trends in the industry, uncover hidden costs and understand resource constraints. They can also provide valuable input on the timeframe of future initiatives. Sometimes there is redundant initiatives that can be done together or projects that can be shifted around to cut costs and simplify implementation. The technology professional can provide a different point of view that can be beneficial in your planning process.
Projects make and brake people’s careers. Therefore, it is understandable that project owners often keep them close to their chest. When it comes to projects that involve technology, this can do more harm than good.
If a product is already picked, a budget set and a schedule defined before your technology group is involved, you are setting yourself up for delays and overruns. When considering a technology project, you have to consider support, infrastructure, system integration, backup, disaster recovery, retirement of old systems and not to mention the people to actually do the work. If you get your technology group involved early on, you can define these things up front so that there is less chance of problems later.
This seems like a simple step but it is often the exception not the rule. Every organization that has a formal project approval process should require a project sponsor from the technology group on every project that has a technology component.
Claiming to be technology illiterate used to be acceptable, but with the level of impact technology has on an organization, individuals no longer have that luxury. Top organization leaders make the effort to at least understand technology at a basic level. Most big technology trends are broken down into layman terms and delivered in formats geared towards non-technical leaders. I am sure that the technology group in your organization would be happy to point you towards some good resources.
Formalize Your Innovation Program
If you diligently implement the procedures outlined above, you will start to see increased innovation take place in your organization. The innovation program is just a way to formalize the process and continue to monitor the level of innovation.
An innovation program makes sure you stay consistently innovative even when leadership changes. To accomplish this you need to create the necessary policies and allocate the appropriate resources to support the program. You also need to formalize your innovation advocate role through changes in job descriptions, titles or committee roles and responsibilities. The program needs to be reviewed regularly by executive leadership so that adjustments can be made as needed.
The way to achieve consistent innovation is to instill these innovation strategies and make them a part of the everyday culture of the organization. Innovation is here to stay and as government leaders we cannot afford to sit back and let these opportunities pass us by.
Originally published in Texas Towns and Cities magazine
Tim Howell is a local government thought leader and frequent writer and speaker on technology, innovation and leadership. He has helped transform local government organizations through creative uses of technology and challenging the status quo.
Tim graduated from Bellevue University with a Bachelors of Science in Technical Project Management and is a Certified Government Chief Information Officer (CGCIO) graduate. He served as the President of the Texas Association of Governmental IT Managers (TAGITM), on the State of Texas Information Technology Strategic Advisory Committee and various other committees both in the public and private sector.
Below you will find a digital copy of the keynote presentation I gave at the New York Digital Government Summit in Albany, New York on September 5, 2014.
For more information or any questions, please e-mail me at dhaisler (at) erepublic.com.
By: Abhi Nemani, Chief Data Officer of Los Angeles
Gov 2.0 is a long-term vision, and we’re just getting started. As technology develops and expands, we must constantly be asking ourselves, “What’s next?”
Source: Flickr CC Code For America
Five years into the Gov 2.0 movement, terms like “open data,” “open government” and “civic innovation” are quickly becoming day-to-day realities, both inside the public sector and out. Hundreds of jurisdictions at all levels of government have open data portals; dozens have Chief Innovation or Data Officers, or other innovation shops; and an ecosystem of for-profit vendors has emerged as living, breathing (and growing) examples of how technology can radically change the way our governments work.
So what does that mean for those of us in the field — either from the start or new entrants? Does that mean we can pack up and head home? Are those rightfully celebrated victories sufficient to prove that we now have governments 2.0? I think not; nor do I think most people in the space would. The reality is that Gov 2.0 is a long-term vision, and we’re just getting started. As technology develops and expands, we must be constantly be asking ourselves, “What’s next?”
Looking at what’s ahead, the reality I see is exciting, with more energy than ever. But it also comes with a certain responsibility: How do we ensure that our civic innovations are having the impact they should? Now with more time, resources and attention invested in this space, it’s critical for us to answer these questions:
HOW DO WE GET SUCCESSFUL INNOVATIONS TO SCALE?
Whether it be at weekend hackathons or weekly meetups, dozens of civic apps are created every week. These tools are as diverse as the challenges we face in the public sector: Some focus on a specific issue such as disaster readiness app ATX Floods, or the blight monitoring system Civic Insight, and others span the gamut, such as Textizen, the broadly reusable citizen input platform.
These tools matter, each in their own way. All of these tools, however, face a common challenge: getting them in the hands of the people who want and need them. User adoption — to use a consumer industry phrase — remains a challenge for many in the civic technology ecosystem, a challenge that strikes at the vitally important issue of impact. The question we must ask is, “Can these tools, no matter how well intentioned or designed, have an impact if they aren’t being used?”
Fortunately, creative approaches are helping solve this problem. App builders are beginning to invest in traditional marketing tactics, such as advertising or on-the-ground outreach. MindMixer and Crisis Text Line have tested physical ads that go to where citizens are, leading to significant user traction. Since cities control vast swaths of public advertising like bus stops and billboards, opportunities abound for greater usage of these largely untapped assets.
A less common tactic, but potentially even more powerful, is the conversion of consumer apps into civic tools. Take Waze, for example, the consumer traffic app acquired by Google. While possibly apocryphal, it was reported that Waze has received more pothole submissions than all the 311 apps combined. The advantage these consumer platforms have is that they are already installed on millions of devices across the country; if we can push them to play a broader civic role, we open up the doors to an unprecedented scale for impact.
Finally, imagine a combination of both of these tactics: integrations between the larger platform players in the civic space — MindMixer with its 700+ clients, GovDelivery with its 70 million users, etc, — and the emerging new apps that help them get to scale.
HOW CAN WE CREATE NETWORKS WITHIN AND ACROSS GOVERNMENTS?
I recently spent a few days with the folks from New Urban Mechanics from Boston and Philadelphia. The Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics (MONUM) was a Boston city government department founded about six years ago to drive a culture of experimentation within the city. Led by Nigel Jacob and Chris Osgood, MONUM served as an “urban incubator,” supporting innovative projects across the city, running them as pilots, and learning what works and what doesn’t. In and of itself, their work was laudable, changing the way the schools interact with parents, city hall with citizens, and how potholes are reported. But more interesting was the growth of their model itself. It wasn’t just their apps that spread, but their department. They shared policies, not just code.
After learning about Boston’s success, the city of Philadelphia launched its own Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics in 2012, and just recently Utah Valley University spun up its own instance. How were they able to do it? By working together. I asked the Philadelphia MONUM team how they worked with Boston, and it was simple enough: At the start, they shared documents and lessons to build support, and moved to sharing technologies and successes for quick-wins. Since then, they’ve set up recurring conference calls to stay connected on ongoing projects. Now they share back and forth. For example, Textizen, an app built in Philadelphia, has now been deployed in Boston, and both are collaborating on procurement reform.
This model of networked governance holds promise for the future. The necessary technology here is simple enough: time for city officials to connect, platforms to share documents and best practices, and the occasional conference call. And the upside is staggering: innovations being spread more quickly to every city.
HOW CAN WE CREATE BETTER ‘MACHINES FOR LEARNING’?
What these evolutions have in common is a need to partner and work together. For scale, shared resources and reach is key. For reuse, governmental collaboration is essential. What this means is that we must begin to erect better systems for collaboration in the civic technology community. What makes this community special — and unlike other industries, such as traditional enterprise or consumer apps — is that we all share a common, additional bottom line: civic impact. That means that we’re all taking the same hill. When it comes to technology, cities do not compete. This isn’t zero sum. Even in competitive arenas, like civic startups, there’s little reason to spurn partnerships or cooperative dialogue since more successful companies mean a stronger field and ultimately more attention from the media, investors and governments.
To do this well, however, the field needs to commit to developing better systems for collaboration. Too often, these critical conversations happen as one-offs at conferences, not in any structured or systematized fashion. This, I think, undermines collective impact. In his famed book The Lean Startup, Eric Reis talks about the notion of building a startup as a “machine for learning.” What he means by this is continually developing hypotheses your company seeks to test, and instrumenting the technology in a way that ensures the results from those tests are always pushed back into the system. That’s a machine that learns and grows smarter and stronger over time.
The question for us is how to architect similar systems for the civic technology ecosystem, our own machines for learning how to make innovation spread and scale. Why? In part because it’s in our own self-interest to make each of our initiatives smarter and stronger. But more importantly because in our democracy it’s our mandate to make the whole greater than the sum of its parts, to always remember: out of many, one.
Originally posted on GovTech.com.
Abhi Nemani is the Chief Data Officer of Los Angeles. Previously, he helped launch, build and run Code for America, where he led product strategy and growth. Prior to CfA, he worked for the Rose Institute of State and Local Government, Google and the Center for American Progress, and currently he is helping a number of civic technology organizations grow, including the OpenGov Foundation and Significance Labs. Abhi’s work has been featured in the New York Times, Fast Company, and at conferences around the world.
Government is more than a venture capitalist with patience or a market fixer, and is uniquely able to take on the crazy risks of failure.
Source: Flickr CC Rick Burtzel
We are playing small ball with innovation in government. That needs to change — and the most compelling argument for doing so is an economic one.
The smallness or experimental nature of much of what is called “government innovation” today takes nothing away from the excitement and learning spawned by successive rounds of hackathons and the nascent but burgeoning civic tech sector. Nor is it a poor reflection on the people whose careers are dedicated to applying fresh thinking to doing the public’s business, including the 20 or so chief innovation officers who now serve in states and localities across the country who stand alongside or, in some cases, on the shoulders of public CIOs.
No small part of the problem is a conventional wisdom shaped by popular political and media narratives. Naysayers characterize “government innovation” as an oxymoron. They fundamentally don’t like government, and they have had a pretty good run, seizing on each headline of apparent government failure in its use or investment as conclusive proof of the folly of letting the public sector play too close to the edge of innovation.
Not only is there confirmation bias in this narrative — “See, I told you it was the problem” — it remains what it always has been: ahistorical and wrong. In his new book Innovative State, which I review here, Aneesh Chopra lays out an expansive history of innovation in government that stretches from the Civil War to today’s civic hacking movement. You might expect the nation’s former first geek* to argue that open data, to cite a contemporary example, “fuels private industry and improves services for everyone.”
(*Chopra was the first person to have the nickname “first geek.” That’s like first lady, only different.)
It might be more surprising for government’s role in innovation to be embraced by a cloud computing pioneer who doubles as a leading libertarian-conservative thinker and author. Enter Jim Manzi, the founder and chairman of Applied Predictive Technologies with side gigs at the Manhattan Institute and the National Review. In a new essay published inNational Affairs called The New American System, Manzi affirms the importance of government’s role and calls for it to be expanded: “The sweet spot for most government research funding will likely be visionary technology projects, rather than true basic research on one extreme, or commercialization and scale-up on the other. We have a long track record of doing this well and an existing civilian infrastructure that can be repurposed.”
In announcing a new Silicon Valley Alliance last year, Lockheed Martin reminded us that the “government market catalyzed the initial growth of all high-tech industries in the San Francisco Bay Area.” The opportunity as the company saw it was now for an incumbent player to “reconnect today’s companies to that market, which continues to be substantial despite a challenging economy.”
A recent Deloitte University Press analysis of more than 300 prize-based challenges run by or on behalf of 50-plus federal agencies hints at the potential based on crowdsourcing innovation. Trailing all other goals — raising public awareness (37 percent), building prototypes and launching pilots (29 percent), attracting new ideas (24 percent), mobilizing community action (7 percent) — stimulating market growth was reflected in a single 1 percent of the challenges. Yet compared to small purses of as little as $1,000 in the more common categories, the median amount spent in the name of market growth was $10 million, with some valued at as much as $15 million.
Government is more than a venture capitalist with patience or a market fixer. Mariana Mazzucato, a professor in the economics of innovation and author of The Entrepreneurial State, reminds us that the great lesson of the Internet is that government was uniquely able to take on the crazy risks of failure of building something that audacious.As governments — including states and localities — increasingly let go of infrastructure, systems and processes that are less necessary in today’s world and embrace flexibility, scalability, agility, simplicity and partnership, they can not only become more focused organizationally but also provide important economic catalysts in the communities they serve.
Originally Posted on GovTech.com
Paul W. Taylor is the Chief Content Officer for e.Republic. He also serves as the Editor-at-Large of GOVERNING magazine. In his role as Chief Content Officer, Paul works with e.Republic’s editorial, research and conference teams to identify issues and content initiatives vital to public service, coordinating the combined resources of Governing, Government Technology, Emergency Management, Public CIO, the GOVERNING Institute and the Center for Digital Government and Center for Digital Education to ensure that relevant and useable content is comprehensively developed and delivered to e.Republic’s audiences.
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — July 18, 2014 — ArchiveSocial—a civic-tech startup that provides automated archiving for social media content—is the first company to partner with e.RepublicVentures.com, a new market accelerator program designed to bring innovative technology to government.
The arrangement provides ArchiveSocial with venture capital and other resources designed to increase the firm’s public-sector market share.
“We’re solving a problem that affects virtually every agency using social media, but most agencies don’t know that we exist,” said ArchiveSocial founder Anil Chawla. “Working with e.Republic is a game-changer. The partnership gives us access to the market and resources that we simply would not have on our own.”
ArchiveSocial — recently named to Gartner’s 2014 list of “Cool Vendors in Government” — offers a hosted solution that preserves social media content in its original format, time-stamps the data and makes it easily retrievable for compliance with state disclosure laws and the Freedom of Information Act, legal e-discovery and other needs.
The firm is a former Code for America Accelerator company, and it already has a growing list of government customers, including the state of North Carolina; the city of Austin, Texas; and Palm Beach County, Fla.
Growing social media use in government is triggering widespread records-retention challenges for public agencies. Social media content is subject to public records laws across the United States, creating the need for a cost-effective way to store and retrieve this information.
“For the past few years, agencies have been struggling to find a practical solution for this important transparency requirement. We have exactly the right technology at a price-point that makes sense for government,” said Chawla.
The newly launched e.Republic Ventures program invests in early stage companies to speed their entry into the public-sector market. Besides providing venture capital, the program links companies to incubation activities and to the broader resources of e.Republic Inc., parent company of Government Technology, Governing and other government-focused media and research properties.
“We looked at dozens of early stage companies in the civic technology space – and ArchiveSocial is unique,” said e.Republic co-founder and CEO, Dennis McKenna. “It’s a solid company with a simple, disruptive solution for governments that is immediately scalable.”
McKenna said the Ventures program furthers e.Republic’s longstanding mission of transforming government and education through smart, innovative technology.
“Too often, new companies with great solutions to public-sector problems don’t have the resources, know-how and reach to truly scale,” McKenna said. “We’re launching e.Republic Ventures to help companies with exciting public-sector solutions overcome these hurdles and win in the government market.”
About e.Republic Ventures:
e.Republic Ventures provides mentorship and capital for a select number of early stage companies to accelerate their entry into the public sector market. It links the incubation efforts of e.Republic Labs by proving and scaling emerging government and civic technologies with the combined resources of e.Republic, parent company of Government Technology, Governing and other media and research properties focused on the state and local government market.
Director of Corporate Communications
ArchiveSocial enables public entities to safely and effectively utilize social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, and LinkedIn. ArchiveSocial is the industry’s first archiving technology providing 100% authentic capture of social media for compliance with state and federal records laws such as FOIA. It provides a legal safety net, and eliminates the time and effort required to respond to public records requests. ArchiveSocial is completely hosted and requires zero IT deployment. It serves as a cost effective offering for any sized public entity, and provides the industry’s easiest and most comprehensive solution for managing records of social media. ArchiveSocial was selected for the prestigious Code for America Accelerator in 2013, and has been named a 2014 Cool Vendor in Government by leading analyst firm Gartner. ArchiveSocial is based in Durham, North Carolina.
Thank you for visiting e.Republic Labs, a new ecosystem to education and accelerate innovation within the public sector. Our goal is to help facilitate a more rapid way to test innovative solutions from private sector, non-profit and independent organizations within the public sector. We will accomplish this by conducting research on emerging technologies and trends, as well as establishing a more structured and open mechanism for all organizations involved in government technology to collectively solve challenges.
I’m excited to be apart of the e.Republic team and look forward to working with each and every one of you.
Dustin Haisler, Chief Innovation Officer
e.Republic | erepublic.com
dhaisler (at) erepublic.com