Championing Change in Gov: Why Can’t Government be Both Functional and Beautiful?

It’s not impossible. Government CAN BE both functional and beautiful.

Today the White House hosted a Champions of Change event in Washington DC highlighting thirteen local government innovators that are doing just that.  According to Gov Tech, these champions have “worked to build a better future for their citizens, create jobs in their community, and ensure more efficient and effective government by making information and public data more accessible”. The folks highlighted today understand that true local innovation—changing the paradigm of the citizen’s relationship with its government—is not just as simple as creating “an app for that”.

Figure 1: Some Features of Transformative Local Innovations

When citizen engagement, crowdsourcing, and design thinking are also considered in the innovation process, truly transformative approaches to local government emerge that are changing the way we can think about what’s possible in governing. An app might be the mechanism, but how to build in engagement and design are lessons that many government agencies are still learning. When governments do this however, innovation efforts result in citizens who find more value from, participate in, and contribute to their community’s well being. According to Doug Matthews from Austin, Texas, almost as important as the function of a tool/product is the beauty of that function. The innovators highlighted today understand that well-designed government innovations should be many things, not just functional:

  • Innovative
  • A useful product
  • Aesthetic
  • An understandable product
  • Unobtrusive
  • Honest (don’t make promises you can’t keep)
  • Long lasting
  • Thorough
  • Environmentally friendly
  • As little design as possible (focus on only the essential elements)

Seeing Design Thinking in action in local communities around the US is incredibly gratifying. Design Thinking in and of itself has become a movement over the last several years spearheaded by the likes of the Stanford Design School and design firm IDEO (Disclaimer: Last year I kicked off a Design Thinking DC Meetup Group with a friend and colleague, Stephanie Rowe, to get this conversation going in DC). But when COMBINED with the other tactics we’re seeing these local governments use—Design Thinking becomes a force multiplier for real, honest to goodness impact in people’s lives.

As an example of the types of local innovations described by the champions, we turn to Boston, Massachusetts. Many cities have been collecting complaints and service requests through 311 programs for years. In recent years, inspired by the DC government’s pioneering efforts in open data (shout out to @kachok), many cities started opening up that data through open311 platforms. However, 311 data is only ONE source of data for what is truly happening in a city. Nigel Jacob and Chris Osgood from Boston, Massachusetts are pursuing ways to augment 311 data with other sources of data about the city—that comes from the palm of your hand.

Street Bump is a new app that turns mobile phone accelerometer data into a pothole service request to the local government. An accelerometer collects A LOT of data. So to identify when the vast amounts of data collected by the device indicated there was a “pothole”, Boston partnered with Innocentive to run a prize competition for an algorithm. Equipped with lots of potential data and an algorithm to analyze that data, Boston leveraged Design Thinking principles, working with IDEO, to design an app that would create an experience to enable data sharing with the government. Boston, using mobile phone technology that residents have already invested in, is experimenting with crowdsourcing additional data to compliment the 311 data set to better address service needs in the city.

It’s important to understand their process here: they did NOT go straight to an app. They made sure they had the data sources, the algorithm, the design and the public experience pieces figured out before they developed the tech.

Many other examples of this approach in action were highlighted today at the White House event as well. As Todd Park, the US CTO, said, “We’re not seeing one bright light; today demonstrates there is a constellation of bright lights. This is a movement. It’s extremely exciting.”

What other examples do you know of where government is being transformed—at any level—to be more functional AND beautiful through better design, use of IT, and citizen engagement?

As always please feel free to reach out in the comments section or to @jenngustetic to discuss further. Thanks for reading!

Jenn

 

SXSWi on Science, Crowdsourcing, Space and Good Music

So I arrived in Austin, Texas for SXSWi late last night and I’m up early to get prepared for what looks like a very long, very awesome day. I’ll be sharing my notes from the sessions I attend like I did last year, so stay tuned for some virtual sharing. You can access the notes I’m adding to in real time during the sessions in this google doc.

I’ve attended (or will attend) the following panels thus far:

Stay tuned for my schedule for the other days… I’ll post throughout the conference. Also, feel free to follow me on twitter (@jenngustetic) if you want to see the sessions live tweeted and tweet me questions to ask the panelists.

Jenn

Government as a Catalyst: Prizes for Tech Innovation

At this year’s South by South West Interactive (SXSWi) conference, I’m pleased to be moderating a panel on the role of government and prizes in stimulating technology innovation and providing public services. Federal agencies have recently been given the authority by Congress to sponsor competitions for individuals, groups, and companies to develop new ideas and technology innovations for a chance to win potentially lucrative prizes. These competitions can range from new mobile outreach technologies to web-based data analytics tools to even vehicle-to-vehicle communications; the government is looking for breakthrough technologies from the minds of the most creative and forward thinking Americans.

The panel will highlight some of the coolest prizes for technology development that the government has been involved in to date, including the DOT’s Connected Vehicle Challenge, the VA’s industry competition and blue button projects, and NASA’s centennial challenges. Additionally we will explore what role the government should be playing in these activities moving forward by looking at some prizes where the government did not have a role.

Here’s a sneak preview about what you’ll hear if you come spend an hour with us. We believe prizes matter for many reasons, but we’ll focus on four during the session:

  1. They work. How can we be so sure? You’ll hear about a series of prizes from NASA, VA, and DOT that demonstrate the value of government sponsored prizes.
  2. They complement other innovation methods. There are many ways to stimulate technology development and many actors are involved in doing so. It doesn’t happen very often however that government gets a BRAND NEW way to stimulate innovation—and prizes are just that. Prizes are a new way for government to stimulate technology development that compliments other, traditional methods for innovation. We’ll give some interesting examples of where prizes work with other innovation methods in government to create some really cool results.
  3. They’re becoming a way of doing business. If government is spending money and doing business this way, entrepreneurs and industry alike should be paying attention. Imagine a world where as much money flows through an organization through prizes as it does through contracts. Now that’s big business.
  4. They’re exposing different roles for Government. Government does not always need to have a role for prizes to work however. The question no longer is CAN government have a role, but SHOULD they. The private sector is increasingly involved in activities that affect the public good and people WANT to get engaged in the public good. We believe this may create room for the public sector to disengage or interesting public-private partnerships to form. We’ll talk about some instances where this is happening.

Our impressive lineup of panelists includes Chris Gerty from NASA (@gerty), Mari Kuraishi from Global Giving (@mashenka), Michael O’Neill from the U.S. Veteran’s Administration (@mdoneill), James Pol from the US Department of Transportation (@polgmu), and me as your humble moderator (@jenngustetic). The panel is on Tuesday March 13 at 11AM at the AT&T Conference Hotel—if you can join us, let us know through Plancast. Alternatively, we’ll also be tweeting and you can follow our session at #SXTechPrize live during the session.

Have questions for the panelists? Let me know and I’ll make sure to ask them for you if you send in advance.

Hope to see you there!

Jenn

(Note: Originally posted on the Phase One Consulting Group, Government Transformation Blog for a special featured Govloop series when I was an employee there. www.phaseonecg.com/blog)

 

Why Innovators Should be Paying Attention to Prizes

Innovators—including government innovators—should be paying attention to prizes because they work, because they add another tool to their innovation tool belt, and because they are already being used by a typical late adopter—the government.

I’ve been a student of prizes and competitions in government for several years now—there is always something to learn: a new success story, an understanding of new enabling legislation, a new prize structure you’ve never seen before, etc. It’s a fascinating field because every prize is different: if you’ve seen one prize… you’ve only seen one prize.

So why do prizes, in fact, matter? Why should the next generation of leaders be thinking about them? Bottom line: they work. (Check out the Prezi I created for a recent lecture I gave at MIT on this topic for more details on the assertions and examples below)

Before I dive into some examples of how they’ve been proven to work though, it’s important to set context: I’m not only referring to app contests and video competitions, which can be great introductions to Agencies about the process for conducting a prize, but more importantly prizes that are specifically designed to solve root cause issues that have been pervasive in their sector for some time.

Often government is a very late adopter of new tools, technologies or approaches, but that’s not the case when it comes to prizes. Prizes are resulting in real value and tangible technology innovations. And there’s not just one example—the list of success stories is growing every day. For example, prizes have brought real solutions to bear for many sticky problems, including:

Transportation Energy Efficiency: This October, NASA awarded the first place prize of $1,350,000 in the Green Flight Challenge sponsored by Google to Pipistrel-USA.com of State College, PA, and second place prize of $120,000 to eGenius of Ramona, CA. The winning teams, which were both electric powered, shattered the fuel efficiency requirement by achieving about twice the required 200 passenger miles per gallon.

Energy Efficiency: The first L Prize (a prize sponsored by the Department of Energy) category targets the 60-watt bulb because it is one of the most widely used types of light bulbs by consumers, representing roughly half of the domestic incandescent light bulb market. As the first entrant in the 60-watt category to successfully meet the full competition requirements in Fall 2011, Philips Lighting will receive a $10 million cash prize as well as L Prize partner promotions and incentives.

International Development: The Gates Foundation and USAID have partnered for the Haiti Mobile Money Initiative (HMMI), a $10 million incentive fund to jumpstart financial services by mobile phone in Haiti and expedite the delivery of cash assistance to victims of the country’s devastating earthquake by humanitarian agencies. This initiative lays the foundation for advanced banking services that could help millions of Haitians lift themselves out of extreme poverty. In January of this year, Haitian mobile operator Digicel won a $2.5 million award for being the first to launch a mobile money service in Haiti, Tcho Tcho Mobile, that meets the competition’s stringent criteria. The second operator to launch a mobile money service within 12 months will receive $1.5 million. Another $6 million will be awarded as the first 5 million transactions take place, divided accordingly among those that contributed to the total number of transactions.

The fact that prizes have been shown to incentivize the creation of new and innovative solutions, when designed and executed properly, means that innovators should be paying attention to them.

We have to keep in mind that each prize is unique because of incentives, solvers, structural designs, and sequencing required to solve the problem at hand are each unique. And because there’s no formula to do them correctly they are very hard to teach (though folks like McKinseyJaison Morgan, the General Services AdministrationTom KalilPeter DiamandisKarim Lakhaniand others have published great information about what makes them tick). The truth is, there are many flavors of prizes that each have their own unique benefits and drawbacks. An understanding of different prize types is a huge resource to add to your innovation tool belt. Actually, I think it’s an innovator’s responsibility to understand them.

A large case for the value of prizes can be made but I can’t neglect to mention that there are also naysayers. Prizes are one tool in a rather large tool belt to stimulate innovation. Grants, contracts, loans, concessions, public private partnerships, and a host of other tactics can also be applied as appropriate. Given this context, questions about prizes as a legitimate government procurement mechanism have been raised and others feel like prizes can be seen as a “waste of taxpayer dollars” when the government is footing the bill. Personally, I think a debate on this issue is very healthy.

So what do you think? Has enough of a business case been made to get more innovators thinking about using prizes? Or are there areas of study and concrete examples that still need to be explored? What would help you make the best case for adding prizes to your “innovator toolkit”?

As always, if you have any questions feel free to reach out to me at @jenngustetic.

(Note: Originally posted on the Phase One Consulting Group, Government Transformation Blog for a special featured Govloop series when I was an employee there. www.phaseonecg.com/blog)

Can the US Government Use Open Innovation to Save $1 Billion?

“Now that the worst of the recession is over, we have to confront the fact that our government spends more than it takes in. That is not sustainable. Every day, families sacrifice to live within their means. They deserve a government that does the same.” President Obama, January 26, 2011

The budget crunch is currently consuming all parts of government. CFOs and other executives are searching for ways to deliver their mission at reduced budgets—to do “more with less”. Many programs and services are required by law to exist, so budget cuts aren’t as easy as they may seem; the government will still need to provide a level of service and degree of public value to meet their statutory responsibilities despite less money to do so. Thus the need for innovation—both static (doing what we do today better) and dynamic (doing completely new things that didn’t exist before)—is of paramount importance. This post will explore how the forthcoming Open Innovation Strategy from the White House may (or may not) help focus the power of innovation on the budget woes of the United States to realize enormous budget savings and increase public value.

From Open Government to Open Innovation…

As I wrote last year, “Open Government is not dead (sorry Vivek). Open Government initiatives are only part of what is required to cultivate an innovative agency culture. They are an important part of a much larger innovation ecosystem, but only one part nonetheless. To cultivate a culture of innovation, the broader picture of what “innovation” means to the Federal Government is critical to understand.” Thus, especially in this budget environment, it’s refreshing to see the conversation about open government being reframed to “open innovation” at the White House.

On Friday, June 10th, CTO Aneesh Chopra and CIO Vivek Kundra as well as other Administration officials, hosted an Open Innovation / Champions of Change event at the White House where, among other things, they previewed the President’s forthcoming Open Innovation Strategy. There were many interesting takeaways from the event but this post will focus on “previewing” Open Innovation and what this new strategy might mean in this era of reduced budgets. (For additional press coverage see White House Honors Unsung Open Data App Developers from Government Technology).

In his opening remarks, Aneesh described the White House’s soon to be released Open Innovation Strategy as integrating the principles of open government and innovation work previously done by the administration. In short,

Strategy for American Innovation + The Open Government Directive = Open Innovation

He outlined the following principles of Open Innovation:

  • “Innovation should help the government spend money smarter
  • Innovation should improve customer service and get the government to where the people are
  • Innovation should be integrated in delivering new and old products and services
  • Innovation isn’t just about the outcomes, it’s about the process”

Furthermore, he identified four key policy levers for open innovation and some examples where they are already working in government:

  • Democratize government data: For example, the USPTO has partnered with Google at no-cost to provide access to a 3+ terabyte patent database, encouraging reuse of data. This database is indexed on a clean tech marketplace to a taxonomy of 246 clean tech categories, facilitating capital investment. This green technology initiative, based on government data, connects investors to relevant IP.
  • Encourage market transparency: For example, HHS has created a catalogue of public and private insurance plans that includes denial and pricing information to help people make better choices about their insurance (http://www.healthcare.gov/). This site provides transparency on price, measures on denials, and “surcharges” to ensure robust competition.
  • Cultivate innovation ecosystem: One example is the DARPA “crowd designed” combat support vehicle. The winner was awarded a contract and the first was slated to be produced in June. Another interesting example occurred last year when a White House rep attended a “gaming” conference and brought a gaming company’s attention to some of the government’s open data. As a result, a new version of an EA snowboarding game will include mountains that are built from NASA’s mountain topography dataset. (Cool!)
  • Create capacity for innovation: For example, VA’s “blue button” is now being replicated by Aetna and Walgreens. The government set an example/best practice that the private sector is adopting. What’s neat about blue button is that it’s spurred an autonomous co-creation environment – one that unlocks new kinds of public value for NOT ONLY veterans, but now for society as a whole.

These experiments demonstrate the open innovation has REAL potential to create public value. Thus, I’m excited for the open innovation strategy to be released in the coming months—it is a necessary next step in the evolution of open government. However, what’s NOT been articulated as clearly as it needs to be is HOW open innovation will help government spend money smarter and better partner to deliver services during a time of reduced budgets. That’s where some of the other discussion at the event comes in…

Saving money through innovation…

To me, the potential for this new strategy was articulated best by Bruce Brown, Chief Technology Officer, Proctor and Gamble (P&G), a panel member later in the event. Bruce told a concrete story about how P&G’s investment in innovation has saved P&G billions, increased shareholder value, and increased revenues. Bruce spoke about how the culture of P&G had always developed everything “inside” but there was recognition at the top that an insular approach would not maintain an innovative edge in an increasingly competitive market. So in 2003 they created the “connect and develop” open innovation program with a goal of 50% of ALL innovations having an external consultation component. This was a radical shift for their culture.

However, the shift towards looking outside seriously impacted their bottom line. For projects with an external component, shareholder value has generally doubled to tripled as compared to projects that don’t have an external component. But this new commitment did cost them some upfront investment. The shift required fundamental changes to the way the company operates, including IT systems, incentive schemes, etc. Additionally, they created an $85M corporate innovation fund to invest in new innovations. However, P&G has realized some concrete savings through these investments in innovation; through looking outside their walls for new ideas (in licensing) P&G partnered with Los Alamos labs to license reliability engineering technology,which has saved them $1B over the last few years. That’s not pocket change. This example demonstrates that open innovation can save real money.

Achieving public value through innovation…

So how can government learn from P&G’s approach to innovation and address its immediate (and long term) need to “do more with less”? If P&G’s ultimate metric is shareholder value to determine the benefit of their innovation program, how should government work to tie innovation programs to public value, the ultimate metric for government? The Center for Technology in Government at the University of Albany has been thinking through how to tie public value to open government programs. Do you think their logic could also apply to open innovation programs?

As most of us would agree, innovation isn’t only about releasing data—it’s about doing existing things better, inventing completely new high value services that make others obsolete and fundamentally rethinking how the government works with partners to provide public value. Thus, this event also got me and some colleagues (including the always brilliant Dan Morgan @dsmorgan77) thinking about how different open innovation really is from other public value optimization frameworks. Because, at the end of the day, open innovation is about producing more public value at lower cost to the government, right?

For example, take Bill Eggers and Steven Goldsmith’s book Governing by Network and Deloitte’s recent report on Creating Public Value by Releasing the Power of Cross Boundary Collaboration.Co-creation, collaboration, and leveraging networks are not new concepts—they’ve been studied extensively for years. Thus when reflecting on the forthcoming open innovation strategy, a few fundamental questions occur to me:

  • Could open innovation just be as a new buzz word for more effective co-delivery and co-creation?
  • Or is open innovation itself in fact a new way to co-create and collaborate to create public value?
  • What makes open innovation different from the co-creation, if at all?

I hope to do a much more in-depth analysis of these differences once the strategy is released in full, soon.

Some new trends are likely coming…

What open innovation will force us all to think about is new ways for government to do business. Combined with reduced budgets that won’t support large pilot projects, the tactics we see the government using to provide services and value might shift significantly. For example, we could see several structural changes to the way the government partners:

  • We could see a rise in Public Private Partnerships (PPPs) for service provision. These could both be no-cost partnerships (like the USPTO partnership highlighted above) or 30-year concession contracts for infrastructure construction (see this former posting of mine on infrastructure development PPPs)
  • We could see a rise in the use of loans and leveraging instead of or in addition to grants. This may change delivery structures. A guaranteed loan isn’t the same as a grant. Loans are largely re-paid; grants aren’t.

Regardless of the structural changes, we will be forced to do more with less. Several agencies have already shown that public value can be achieved through open innovation and P&G has shown that it’s also an effective tool for budget savings. The basic question whose answer remains to be seen is: how will government leverage open innovation as part of its toolbox to create public value?

(Note: Originally posted on the Phase One Consulting Group, Government Transformation Blog for a special featured Govloop series when I was an employee there. www.phaseonecg.com/blog)