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Innovation in Government: A Roadmap for the Next Administration

By Sonal Shah, Executive Director, Beeck Center; and Edward Montgomery, Dean of the McCourt School of Public Policy at Georgetown University

June 21, 2016

We have an opportunity to design a government that can meet the challenges of the 21st century. Technology and innovation are evolving at an unprecedented rate and touching nearly every aspect of our lives. Government needs to innovate – to leverage technology, better engage with citizens, build new partnerships – and deliver results. Georgetown University’s Beeck Center and the McCourt School of Public Policy convened a bipartisan group to provide recommendations for the transition teams on how government can innovate by investing in the governance structure to deliver on the promise of innovation.

We need more than tools to create a 21st century government. It requires focusing on the nuts and bolts of governing, investing in a management structure, and allowing for innovations to scale. This is critical given the lack of trust in government today.

This transition moment is an opportunity to institutionalize innovative practices and people to build a more effective, transparent, and trusted government.

A Moment of Transition

Looking back to governmental efforts from the past 20 years, it is evident that both Republican and Democratic Administrations have made real progress in building a culture of innovation across the federal government — from integrating data use to leveraging technology in the operation of the federal government.

Just last month, the Obama Administration announced GSA’s new Technology Transformation Service to house the Presidential Innovation Fellows and 18F Digital Service Delivery unit as well as other Obama Administration innovation achievements. The challenge is to identify how to make these efforts a permanent fixture of the White House and the incoming Administration.

Transition is a unique time to take stock of what has worked and why, with an eye towards providing recommendations for how the government might continue to promote and organize innovation to achieve sustained positive outcomes and deliver better governance.

Specifically, how can we ensure that the use of data, technology, and other innovative approaches to improve the delivery of services are part of the conversation? How can the next White House work with agencies to initiate pilot programs and scale what works? How can we use data to better inform policy? How can we improve the pipeline of technologically savvy talent flowing into the public sector, while providing new training to keep career civil servants up to speed?

To be sure, there are no easy answers to these questions. But the next administration has the potential to continue the legacy of leadership in the ongoing effort to deepen and embed a culture of innovation in government.

Institutionalizing Innovation in Government

Recognizing the need for greater clarity and thought leadership on how the next administration should create more innovation in government, Georgetown University’s Beeck Center for Social Impact + Innovation and the McCourt School of Public Policy’s Massive Data Institute convened a bipartisan group of leading experts from across government, civil society, foundations, industry, academia, and technology for an afternoon of roundtable discussions on Institutionalizing Innovation in Federal Policy Making.

The workshop consisted of three discussion groups assessing how best to structure data and innovation within the White House, how to embed these efforts across Federal agencies, and how to train and recruit the best talent to work in the public sector.

Each discussion group presented a variety of recommendations and observations on how to embed a culture of innovation within the federal government, including:

  • At the White House level, West Wing directives to innovate (e.g. by expanding the use and application of data within programs, integrating technological advancements into policy, and beyond) could serve as a springboard for incoming White House staff and other agencies to craft substantive data and tech oriented initiatives that are more than just ‘check the box’ efforts.
  • Within the agencies, similarly, the group discussed creating incentives and the right types of leadership roles to enable agencies to both set and achieve effective performance goals.
  • To facilitate recruiting and retaining staff, the group agreed that policy discussions should include both technology and as well as policy experts more regularly.

Creating a culture of innovation in government requires patience, diligence, and courage. Embedding a culture of innovation in federal policymaking will require leadership at the highest level, including the President. From privacy concerns to incentivizing innovation within the day-to-day work of civil servants, and catalyzing multifaceted, cross-agency initiatives, leadership needs to prioritize innovation as a MUST do, not just a NICE to do.

Expanding Our Work

Georgetown University, along with our partners from various sectors of the economy, brings a deep commitment to improving public service. Hence, we developed an effort called “Data for Social Good” to harness our convening power and unwavering commitment to serving the public good.

Data for Social Good aims to better understand and more effectively use data to positively impact social and public outcomes, especially how digital technology and data can benefit underserved communities.

To do this, we believe that government is critical to ensure that innovation benefits all communities, not just those with access. Hence, Georgetown is undertaking an initiative to help the next Administration embed innovation within the White House and across federal agencies to improve access to and delivery of services.

The Beeck Center and the McCourt School of Public Policy will be publishing transition documents to create a 21st century government that uses data, technology, and civic engagement for better governance. Our first report will provide a strategy on how to organize around a culture of data-driven approaches and innovation in government. As follow-up, we will develop additional recommendations on implementation for the first 100-days in office by January 2017.

Government can drive change. We need to design organizational structures that lead to greater innovation in government to restore the public’s trust. By better understanding the successes, challenges, and opportunities of this work, we will contribute to how the next Administration can hit the ground running to ensure that our government is modern, efficient, and effective.

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