The President's Management Agenda Series: Transforming through Innovation

In March 2018, the President’s Management Agenda (PMA) was released to the public. The PMA “lays out a long-term vision for modernizing the Federal Government in key areas that will improve the ability of all agencies to deliver mission outcomes, provide excellent service, and effectively steward taxpayer dollars on behalf of the American people.”

So how will the U.S. Government carry out these goals? In this blog series, we will explore some of the actions, processes, and practices it can leverage to ensure success.

1: Transforming through Innovation

Many people think of innovation as a bulb that suddenly flashes on as your face lights up with a one-time stroke of brilliance. Sure, an innovative idea can come to you at any time, but innovation comprises much more than a moment of genius. Innovation is a structured and deliberate process; it can be practiced, improved, and fostered by an overarching framework that supports creative thinking and risk-taking.

Innovation occurs when organizations follow through with the best creative ideas, evolve with changing demands and challenges, capitalize on new opportunities, and achieve efficiencies through continuous improvement. It can be a very powerful tool that buoys individuals, teams, and whole organizations.

Innovation is considered successful when it adds value to an organization—often that value equates to profit. But in the case of the Federal Government, innovation is measured by whether it improves the lives of the American people who are served by the government every day.

The President’s Management Agenda refers to the concept of innovation frequently, and it is depicted as playing a critical role in achieving the outlined goals. Take for example the administration’s intention of creating a data strategy and infrastructure for the future by leveraging data, accountability, and transparency. According to the PMA, the Federal Government “lacks a robust, integrated approach to using data to deliver on mission, serve customers, and steward resources.” The administration seeks to develop its data strategy to remain current with technological advances and ultimately increase the effectiveness of the government. One of the key components in its plan to enhance Federal data strategy is through commercialization, innovation, and public use. While commercialization and public use will take advantage of the private sector and research communities, the innovation piece of this objective is especially crucial, because it requires a major mindset shift from the status quo to the inventive and imaginative.

The PMA states that “enabling external users to access and use government data for commercial and other public purposes spurs innovative technological solutions and fills gaps in government capacity and knowledge.” With the administration’s renewed commitment to innovation, can it succeed in accomplishing the lofty goal of bridging the gap between ideas and action? Below we explore the challenges facing the government when it comes to innovation, and the ways it can overcome those challenges and support an environment of innovation.

What are the barriers to innovation?

  • Lack of flexibility and an acceptance of risk that can be uncomfortable and unnerving.
  • Fear of the unknown, fear of failure, or fear of looking foolish.
  • Knowledge, which tends to cause us to look at things in a highly selective manner, can lead to close-mindedness when envisioning solutions or ideas.
  • Habits that make tasks easier to perform, but hinder creativity.
  • Complacency—as exemplified by the attitude, “If it isn’t broken, why fix it?”—does not allow us to challenge our way of thinking.
  • Money, time, or resource constraints: a constant concern for organizations, especially the Federal Government.

How can the government overcome challenges to innovation and work to support it?

  • Innovation can only flourish with specific processes in place and a collective commitment to creative thinking.
  • Collaboration is a key facet of innovation. With a collective focus on problem-solving and decision-making, ideas inspire other ideas which inspire other ideas, thus generating organically from a shared objective.
  • Creating a supportive and safe environment where people are motivated to think creatively. This is done through positive reinforcement, validation, and the constant alignment of the individual contributor’s work to the overall mission of the Federal Government.
  • Leaders must build a culture of trust, in which team members are empowered to use critical thinking skills to question existing processes. Leaders need to encourage universal ownership of achieving organizational goals.

If the Federal Government can truly work to foster innovation and support an environment that values creative, out-of-the-box thinking, not only will it achieve the goals of the President’s Management Agenda, but the American people will reap the benefits.

Source: President’s Management Agenda. President’s Management Council and the Executive Office of the President. March 2018.

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