April 6, 2017 | By Sonal Shah, Executive Director
Recently the White House announced the establishment of a new Office of American Innovation, led by Jared Kushner. While creating this new office is one step in the right direction, it’s my hope that Kushner will draw from the promising practices of the previous administration in delivering results for the American public.
In 2008, I led the technology, innovation and government reform efforts for the new administration for the Obama-Biden transition team. I later joined the Obama Administration to start and lead the White House Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation. Like Kushner, we had the challenge and opportunity to build a new innovation agenda for the White House. And, like Kushner, I had worked in the private sector, at Goldman Sachs and Google, and held an appreciation for the efficiency of industry to achieve results at scale. We learned some very important lessons in our first days.
To innovate in government requires an understanding of the business of the agency or program, the needs of the communities being served, the effectiveness of the delivery mechanisms, the legislative mandates and a clear definition of the outcome. Government also needs leaders who have an appetite for risk: to test, iterate and scale good ideas. For Kushner and his team, the efforts of previous administrations offer a strong foundation for building the government of the future.
Below are five ways that Kushner can leverage the new innovation office to build on the momentum of the previous administration to improve government for all American people.
1. Modernize Public-Private Partnerships:
To make government work better, we need new models for public-private partnerships (PPPs) that enable meaningful collaboration and produce real results. PPPs are not new. We need to “reboot” the role of the public and private sectors to solve today’s problems and be held accountable to delivering substantive. Given the Administration’s emphasis on results I would encourage Kushner to explore how innovative financing mechanisms, such as Pay for Success, impact investing, and outcomes based infrastructure financing. We need to engage across sectors to build partnerships and deliver better services.
2. Reform Procurement and Hiring:
To manage performance, government needs to efficiently procure modern systems for technology and data, while also hiring and training the talent to use them. To start, government needs to attract talent that understands technology and can deliver better services. As Kushner knows well, great talent exists outside of government. The Presidential Innovation Fellowship program brought dynamic individuals into the government for term appointments to infuse new tech-tools and methodologies. The White House can expand this talent pool by creating new fellowships with non-profits and academic institutions, while also investing in the civil service through training on innovation and then aligning performance reviews to incentivize and reward innovative approaches. Creating shorter term appointments would allow for a steady flow of innovation talent between the public and private sectors.
The Administration’s instinct to invest in technology for the agencies is spot-on. Kushner and his team could model the new office as a “skunkworks” to government, such as 18F, the digital consultancy housed in the General Services Administration. The office could partner with existing offices, such as the United States Digital Services, to help with limited priority projects to deliver results that can be replicated and scaled across government. But, to achieve real scale and achieve better government outcomes, the new office needs to work on procurement reform. This means not only simplifying how services are procured and managed, but also ensuring that the systems being implemented meet the needs of both the government and citizens, and that providers are held accountable to real outcomes.
3. Build a Culture of Innovation Across Government
Transforming government requires changing habits — providing the room to “fail forward,” to take risks and make (small) mistakes, to experiment, launch, and reiterate—and once something works, to take it to scale. Innovation labs, a model that has been started and could easily be expanded, would promote idea generation and cross-agency collaboration to improve government. Agencies should partner political appointees with career civil servants, because their collaboration can yield great insights.
4. Give Citizens a Seat at the Table
Modernizing government needs to give citizens a genuine seat at the table. The Trump Administration has an opportunity to better leverage tech and data infrastructure to give citizens the opportunity to participate in government. Listening to citizens and responding to their needs, the new office can build out existing mechanisms for meaningfully engaging civic voice – through scaling innovations like participatory budgeting, to establishing citizen cabinets, and creating effective feedback loops. . Kushner’s new office can engage communities across the country to generate more effective solutions through co-creation and build partnerships to scale the best ideas.
5. Build an Architecture for Innovation
Moving from innovation to scale is critical to changing how public services are delivered. The government has many pilot programs; the key is finding what has worked and scaling it across departments and agencies. We found that innovation funds were important tools for finding programs across the country that were working and then scaling them. The Trump administration should find approaches that are working by creating a culture of innovation that enables the adoption of effective initiatives.
Cities across the country have already been leading these efforts on innovation. It is my hope that Kushner and his team seize the opportunity to leverage these best practices from the past to build a more nimble and innovative government for all Americans.