Sergey Nivens/

How the Next Administration Can Make Government More Effective

Disciplined and replicable models of innovation will improve outcomes.

This is the first of a two-part post on encouraging and sustaining innovation in government through the presidential transition. 

Government has made great strides in creating pathways for innovation over the last several years. The next administration faces the challenge of how to leverage the continuously accelerating pace of change to make the government more effective. Disciplined and replicable models of innovation will help new leaders drive better customer service, increase citizen engagement, deliver efficiencies and improve outcomes.

The IBM Center for The Business of Government and the Partnership for Public Service recently co-hosted a Roundtable to discuss how agency leaders can continue to bring innovation into government in a way that integrates with agency activities to drive successful outcomes for the next administration. An exceptional group of current and former senior officials from prior administrations of both parties, leaders from Capitol Hill, as well as experts from academia and the private and non-profit sectors participated in a robust discussion. The focus of the session was how the next administration can use innovation to spark progress on the administration’s goals and priorities, and in-turn, how transition teams and incoming leaders should incorporate innovation into how government carries out key missions.

The meeting was the fourth of six planned roundtables in our “Management Roadmap” series, part of a multi-pronged Ready to Govern (#Ready2Govern) initiative, through which the Partnership seeks to improve the transfer of power and knowledge between administrations.

The roundtables addressed the critical importance of strong leadership (along with the related report on executive talent),  the need for agency-specific and governmentwide approaches, and the challenge of decision-making in a time of transition.


Under the Obama Administration, agencies have prioritized innovation in many different ways. The administration pioneered business model innovations such as the U.S. Digital Service, the GSA Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies and 18F, and a new GSA Unified Shared Services Management governance model. and “idea labs” such as those at the Health and Human Services Department and the Office of Personnel Management brought new approaches to program delivery and government operations. There has also been innovation in talent acquisition such as the introduction of the Presidential Innovation Fellow.

When the next president takes office in 2017, a new administration will have the opportunity to embark on their own innovation agenda, building upon past efforts and setting new goals. How can new agency leaders drive and sustain innovation? How can the next administration enhance customer experience and support empowerment of citizens and businesses? These and other questions served to frame a rich discussion at the Innovation Roundtable. 

The discussion highlighted that innovation is the means to an end—and not an end-goal per se. Roundtable participants focused on three desired objectives for how innovation can improve outcomes:

  • Improving Efficiency and Effectiveness—using technology to improve government operations.
  • Customer Experience—enhancing customer service and improving the user experience.
  • Engagement—empowering citizens and businesses to participate in the development of government policies and programs.

In each of these areas, innovators must address the challenges of leadership and talent, process, and scale in order to sustain and grow an innovation culture. The roundtable noted that meeting these challenges can be facilitated by a focus on innovation goals and governance—how to set outcome goals and establish governance structures—at the agency and governmentwide levels. Specific challenges include:

Leadership and Talent

  • Bringing in new talent remains a challenge across government, not just for innovation but across the board. Agencies can look at new models for acquiring talent, often using existing authorities that may not be fully utilized.
  • Top leadership needs to signal support for innovation, and tolerance for failure,while understanding that innovation needs to emerge from within the organization (not top-down).
  • Bringing in people from outside the organization can bring in new ideas and ways of thinking, but they need to work closely with existing career staff for innovation to stick.
  • Innovation is one of many priorities competing for the time and attention of staff and leaders. To highlight the importance of innovation, it needs to be part of how people are measured.


  • Current law and policy can inhibit innovation. For example, the Paperwork Reduction Act could be reformed to promote communicating with citizens around innovative ideas.
  • A long and complex acquisition process can limit the manner in which government and industry innovate together.
  • The private sector can be a source of innovation but it can also be a source of resistance if innovation disrupts current business.
  • Innovation is not one-size-fits-all. Efforts to drive innovation must recognize this reality.
  • OMB and other “center of government” agencies are often viewed as adding processes that inhibits positive change, however, they can also drive innovation forward across government.
  • The oversight community (e.g., IGs, GAO) can limit innovation, but they could—and should—be a partner in helping agencies identify ways to improve.


  • Scaling innovation across the government, an agency, and even a bureau is a real challenge and requires concerted effort and support by leadership.
  • Agency leaders can foster innovation at scale by removing real and perceived barriers to change.
  • Innovation in management structures is important (for example, establishing a cohesive shared services governance model) and needs to accompany innovations at scale.

The IBM Center is pleased to collaborate with the Partnership to help the next Administration get off to a strong start, and build sustained management excellence thereafter. We are grateful for the many distinguished leaders who contributed their time and insights to the Enterprise Government session, and to Steve Goldsmith, director of the Innovations Program at the Harvard Kennedy School and former deputy mayor of New York and mayor of Indianapolis, for his expert facilitation of the session.

Dan Chenok is executive director of the IBM Center for the Business of Government. Alan Howze, a fellow at the IBM Center, is a senior adviser and project manager for the Management Roadmap initiative.

(Image via Sergey Nivens/