Encouraging and Sustaining Innovation in Government for the New Administration

Dan Chenok and Alan Howze at the IBM Center for The Business of Government: “The IBM Center for The Business of Government and the Partnership for Public Service recently co-hosted a Roundtable to discuss how agency leaders can continue to bring innovation into government, in a way that integrates with agency activities to drive successful outcomes for the next Presidential term. An exceptional group of current and former senior officials from Administrations of both parties, leaders from Capitol Hill, as well as experts from academia and the private and non-profit sectors participated in a robust discussion. The focus of the session was how the next administration can use innovation to spark progress on the administration’s goals/priorities, and in-turn, how transition teams and incoming leaders should incorporate innovation into how government carries out key missions.

The meeting was the fourth of six planned Roundtables in our “Management Roadmap” series, part of a multi-pronged Ready to Govern (#Ready2Govern) initiative, through which the Partnership seeks to improve the transfer of power and knowledge between administrations[1]These Roundtables addressed the critical importance of strong leadership (along with the related report on Executive Talent),  the need for agency-specific and governmentwide approaches, and the challenge of decision-making in a time of transition.

The IBM Center is pleased to collaborate with the Partnership to help the next Administration get off to a strong start, and build sustained management excellence thereafter. We are grateful for the many distinguished leaders who contributed their time and insights to the Enterprise Government session, and to Steve Goldsmith, Director of the Innovations Program at the Harvard Kennedy School and former Deputy Mayor of New York and Mayor of Indianapolis, for his expert facilitation of the session.


Under the current Administration, agencies have prioritized innovation in many different ways. The administration pioneered business model innovations such as the U.S. Digital Service, the GSA Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies and 18F, and a new GSA Unified Shared Services Management (USSM) governance model. Challenge.gov and “idea labs” such as those at HHS and OPM brought new approaches to program delivery and government operations. There has also been innovation in talent acquisition such as the introduction of the Presidential Innovation Fellow (PIFs).

When the next President takes office in 2017, a new administration will have the opportunity to embark on their own innovation agenda, building upon past efforts and setting new goals. How can new agency leaders drive and sustain innovation? How can the next administration enhance customer experience, and support empowerment of citizens and businesses?  These and other questions served to frame a rich discussion at the Innovation Roundtable.

The discussion highlighted that innovation is the means to an end – and not an end-goal per se. Roundtable participants focused on three desired objectives for how innovation can improve outcomes:

  • Improving Efficiency and Effectiveness –utilizing technology to improve government operations.
  • Customer Experience – enhancing customer service and improving the user experience.
  • Engagement–empowering citizens and businesses to participate in the development of government policies and programs.

In each of these areas, innovators in and for government must address the challenges of leadership and talent, process, and scale in order to sustain and grow an innovation culture. The roundtable noted that meeting these challenges can be facilitated by a focus on innovation goals and governance – how to set outcome goals and establish governance structures – at the agency and governmentwide levels.  Specific challenges discussed follow….(More). See also: Part II.