Agencies Aren't Taking Concrete Steps to Promote Innovation

Creativity is important for organizations trying to stay agile as they solve problems new and old. So how are federal agencies encouraging their employees to devise new solutions? Welcome to the first post in our Innovation Series, where we’ll walk you through what we found.

In GBC’s recent survey of federal employees, we wanted to unpack the buzzword of ‘innovation’ for the federal government, discovering how it happens, what it looks like, and how it could be better. Contrary to the idea of creativity as something that arises spontaneously, more and more organizations are setting aside time--whether it’s a short daily brainstorm or an entire hack week--for employees to consciously come up with new ideas. Government agencies need to innovate all the time in order to solve complex problems as they emerge around the world, but our report reveals that employees might not currently have the tools needed to make this happen. In a survey of 334 federal employees, 39% said their agency had taken none of several common steps to encourage innovative thinking among their employees.

Of course, government agencies face the added constraints of a tough budget environment, a stigma of inefficiency, and accountability to taxpayers that may prevent employees from going out on a limb. Paradoxically, however, a tight budget is the number one reason respondents told us they wanted to innovate--they see the need to make ends meet as a major creativity motivator. Some reticence is understandable given the high stakes, so agency leadership might need to develop clear guidelines for when it’s okay to try new things. These could include monitoring the effectiveness of new initiatives, setting aside funding for innovation projects, or creating a process by which employees can introduce their ideas to the right people. Our data suggest that few agencies are currently doing any of these things, but more on that later.  

To see the rest of our findings, download the report here or stay tuned for more in our Innovation Series.

Methodology: GBC deployed an email-based survey to a random sample of Government ExecutiveNextgov, and Defense One online and print subscribers in August 2014. The pool of respondents includes those of GS-11 through Senior Executive Service levels in at least 30 different civilian and defense agencies. 


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