This fast-paced political city has an atmosphere thick with ambition. Everyone seems to have a mission in Washington D.C. I admire the air of professionalism on the morning commute, the suits and ties, the business skirt-sneaker combos. We walk with purpose, aiming to accomplish our daily tasks efficiently, awaiting relief on Friday at 5 p.m. This world is new to me and when I first joined the Veterans Affairs Innovation Initiative team (VAi2) I did not expect my daily tasks to bring about actual change. But they have.
Henry Ford once said, “Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success.” The internal working environment at VAi2 is coherent and fluid; not only do my teammates succeed by working together, but this collaboration is the essence of innovation. It results in and an abundance of productivity and perspective.
As a result, we recognize that some of the best ideas lie outside our little office. “VAi2 brings fresh thinking to Departmental challenges,” says Jonah Czerwinski, director of VAi2, “by sourcing ideas from VA employees, entrepreneurs, and industry.”
In order to reach those ideas, we gather information from the VA employees working on the front lines with our Veterans. To do so, we host:
- Industry competitions. We find new solutions outside of government. The Industry Innovation Competitions are held annually and are designed to obtain ideas from the private sector in order to solve the Department’s most pressing challenges. Solutions will then come from all sorts of organizations - businesses large and small, start-ups, non-profits, and academic/research institutions.
- Employee competitions. Employees on the front line are often in the best position to identity areas for innovation. They know their needs; they understand and see problems firsthand. By providing these innovators with funding and support, we enable them to transform their ideas into reality.
- Prize contests. These contests are an alternative method for engaging the private sector. We voice a problem at hand and outline the solution we are trying to achieve, and then award prizes to contestants with the best solutions.
Veterans have put their lives on the line for our country. They deserve the very best in care and benefits. And by tapping into the talent and expertise of individuals in and outside of government to contribute creative ideas, we get results.
Check back for upcoming posts where we'll detail some of those innovations. In the meantime, what challenges does your agency face when implementing innovations?