Creating Innovation Offices That Work
Six model approaches for implementing ideas and how to measure success.
Innovation offices are being established by many governments—including cities (Austin, Philadelphia and Chicago), states (Maryland, Colorado and Pennsylvania) and federal agencies (the National Archives and Records Administration and the departments of Health and Human Services and State). But not all offices are organized the same way and not all have the same mission or metrics. In a new report from the IBM Center for the Business of Government, “A Guide for Making Innovation Offices Work,” Rachel Burstein and Alyssa Black detail how these various innovation groups fall into structural categories and how their success metrics map to their missions.
The authors identified six basic structures of innovation offices, noting that many combined two more or more of these models:
- Laboratory: An autonomous group charged with developing new technologies, products, fixes, or programs, sometimes in partnership with other groups and often with a public face. (Examples: New Urban Mechanics, Boston and Philadelphia; the Health and Human Services Department’s IDEA Lab)
- Facilitator: One person or small group working to convene government departments on internal improvements or external projects. (Examples: Governor’s Innovation Office, Pennsylvania; Chief Innovation Officer, Kansas City)
- Adviser: A small autonomous group or single person within government who provides departments with innovation expertise, assistance and leadership on specific projects. (Example: Chief Innovation Officer, Labor Department)
- Technology Build-Out: Innovation offices specifically tied to a technology function that regard technology as both a tool for encouraging innovation as well as the innovation itself. (Examples: Chief Innovation Officer, Philadelphia; Chief Innovation Technology Officer, Los Angeles)
- Liaison: Groups that reach out to designated communities outside of government, most often the business community. (Examples: Chief Innovation Officer, Davis, California; Colorado Innovation Network)
- Sponsored: Innovation offices sponsored in whole or in part by third parties—universities, businesses, nonprofit organizations, philanthropic foundations or others. (Examples: Office of New Urban Mechanics, Utah Valley University)
Whichever model was created, the authors found that successful innovation offices implemented these key actions:
- Commit to supplying real resources.
- Choose leaders carefully and invest in and provide appropriate support to those leaders.
- Create a specific mission tied to specific outcomes.
- Communicate effectively with internal and external partners throughout the innovation lifecycle.
- Find allies within government and committed partners outside of government.
- Establish an innovation process from the outset, even if the exact details and specific projects change over time.
- Seize opportunities to share lessons and information emerging from government innovation offices through both formal and informal networks.
Noting that innovation offices have two distinct areas of influence—internal and external activities—the report details metrics that can be used to assess how successful the offices are. For internal innovation efforts—including achieving greater collaboration between departments, greater efficiency in government processes and possible allocation of saved dollars to new projects, and more systematized processes and funding opportunities for innovative projects—the authors recommend measuring:
- Number of jointly proposed and executed projects.
- Projections of cost saved over time, even with possible initial spending increases.
- Number of projects that are evaluated mid-course and changed or canceled as a result.
- Combined value of monetary and in-kind support for innovation-specific projects across the government entity.
- Diversity of skill sets identified in job descriptions, compared to the past.
For external activities—such as achieving an improved relationship between public and government, an improved relationship between business/organizations and government, greater transparency in government decision-making, and greater accommodation of community need in service development and deployment—the authors suggest measuring:
- Increasing scores on customer satisfaction surveys for targeted departments.
- Number of businesses and organizations applying to partner with the government entity, compared to the past.
- Number and value of monetary and in-kind donations from businesses and organizations across the government entity.
- Number of downloads, views, data manipulation or other means of accessing government-supplied information.
- Number of projects changed, abandoned or reassessed as a result of a partner comment.
The future of innovation may look nothing like its past, but government leaders who are tasked with establishing innovation offices have a great deal to learn from their current configuration, and this report is an invaluable resource in surveying the current topography.