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The 6 Factors Needed to Drive Innovation in Government

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There is much discussion these days about innovation and how important it is to making government more effective and efficient – particularly in these resource constrained times that require federal employees to do more with less. But what do we really mean by innovation and what drives it?

At its most basic, innovation is the process of improving, adapting or developing a product, system or service to deliver results. In new Best Places to Work in the Federal Government analysis of 2012 survey data, federal employees say they are willing to innovate, with 91 percent of them saying they are always looking for ways to do their jobs better, but only 57 percent say they are encouraged to do so, and still fewer -- 36 percent -- say that creativity and innovation are actually rewarded in their agency.

In 2012, employees gave federal government an overall innovation score of 61.5 out of 100, a drop of 1.7 points from the year before. But in the middle of sequestration, when employees are having to figure out how to accomplish their goals with less money and fewer people, how can agency leaders and managers foster a culture of innovation?

The Partnership for Public Service and Deloitte, with technical partner Hay Group, analyzed survey questions to determine which had the highest impact on the innovation score and found that six workplace conditions drive innovation. This tells us that federal leaders can improve innovation by creating an environment in which each of these conditions thrives:

  1. Employees are recognized for providing high-quality products and services
  2. Employees are given opportunities to improve their skills
  3. Employees are involved in decisions that affect their work
  4. Employees are given a sense of personal empowerment with respect to work processes
  5. Employees are provided with opportunities to demonstrate their leadership skills
  6. Leaders work to gain employees respect

Interestingly, factors that were not as important in driving innovation included salary, workload and resources. Well-defined systems and processes support innovation, but they do not create it; that is the role of leaders. Leaders will get the most innovative results from their teams if they view their role as creating the environment needed for their teams to be effective and giving them the respect, responsibility and freedom to do good work. Agency leaders can use the innovation score and the six drivers of innovation as a framework for evaluating the innovation climate they are creating and measuring progress over time.

For tips, look to NASA or the Surface Transportation Board. They’ve had the highest innovation scores in the Best Places to Work in the Federal Government rankings for the last two years running. For a complete list of the most innovative federal agencies, visit

Lara Shane is Vice President for Research and Communications at the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service. This is the sixth article in a series on the 2012 Best Places to Work in the Federal Government® rankings. For information on how to improve employee satisfaction and commitment at your agency and to request a senior leadership briefing on your agency’s Best Places to Work results contact Mark Doboga at

Image via Everything Possible/

Lara Shane is former vice president for research and communications at the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service.

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