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Improving Federal Innovation Subject of New Accenture Study

By Rob Starr, Content Manager Big4.com

Accenture Federal Services and the Government Business Council have identified steps federal agencies can take to become more innovative and a report on the research, “Is Government Making Inroads to Innovation?”, covers federal defense and civilian agency executive’s input regarding their agencies support of innovation. Tom Greiner, Accenture Federal Services technology lead, responded to our questions via email.

How and why are federal workers  divided over what agencies can do to most effectively facilitate innovation?

Survey respondents are divided over what agencies can do to more effectively facilitate innovation. A majority (48 percent), believe their agency should be making gradual adjustments to become more innovative, but another 42 percent say they believe total overhaul of the current system would be best. Almost half (44 percent) of respondents say their department/agency currently uses existing funding streams to fund innovation initiatives. Only 14 percent say their department/agency creates new funding streams or acquires outside funding to drive innovation.

What are the top agency drivers of federal innovation?

Federal agencies are constantly driven by the need to reduce costs, which 46 percent of respondents identify as a goal of innovation. Forty four percent of federal agencies surveyed

Thomas Greiner

Thomas Greiner

indicate that they innovate to improve mission effectiveness.  They want to cut costs, improve performance in mission delivery, and increase efficiency.

    What are the challenges to adopting innovation?

Agencies tend to think of innovation as something that is very difficult, but it really is not. There are simple, collaborative, and innovative ways that agencies can raise the bar on innovation.

1.       Agencies need to create a process for innovation. The respondents in this survey report that by and large, innovation is unstructured and unsupervised.   66% indicate that their agency does not set benchmarks or innovation goals, and nearly half (48%) do not feel that their agency effectively tracks the performance of new initiatives.

2.       Agencies need the culture and the tools to enable collaboration. People are inspired by their coworkers and other departments. Forty-six percent of respondents say they get inspiration from their coworkers, and 40 percent are inspired by other departments. Digital collaboration tools – which 42 percent of respondents classify as unsatisfactory or poor at their agency – promote the sharing of ideas and information.

3.       Agencies need leadership who support the adoption of new ideas. Leaders can get creative about how to foster innovation in the federal environment and build a more risk-tolerant culture from the top down.  Sixty percent of respondents report that a lack of leadership support deters them from adopting new ideas.

Large bureaucracies have many functions (Legal, Audit, Finance,..) whose job it is to say “No, because….” to avoid risk, protect the public, steward tax payer dollars, etc.  It takes real leadership sponsorship to provide the necessary air cover for individual idea champions to drive their innovations forward and change the dialogue to “Yes, if….”

What are the other takeaways from the research?

Innovation is also an employee satisfaction issue. Individuals are motivated by their desire to be productive and contribute to solutions—60% say they are driven by their commitment to public service and 49% say they innovate to improve their sense of job satisfaction. Where we might have expected a survey of commercial firms to focus more on a profit motive, it was encouraging to see that the federal respondents innovate because they have a commitment to public service.

  What’s in the future?

Leaders of agencies need to pave the path for innovation, allow their employees to try new ideas and techniques, create an environment that encourages it, measure the effectiveness of these innovations, and widely communicate their successes.  They can make innovation stick by getting early wins and gaining traction from there. It allows the teams to see that new ideas are implemented and built upon; and encourages further innovation.

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