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DorobekINSIDER: ELC 2011: UNsessioning about YOUR role in government innovation

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Innovation — we all know it’s important, particularly in these rapidly changing times. We also know that it is hard. At the 2011 Executive Leadership Conference, hosted by the American Council on Technology and the Industry Advisory Council, we are going to try to help. And even if you are not at ELC 2011, there is still a way for you to participate — even if you aren’t here in Williamsburg.

ACT-IACToday, as part of ELC’s technology innovation track – the last panel of the day – and we are trying an ELC innovation about innovation. We are holding an UN-session. For the past several years, there have been un-conferences. Un-conferences — and, by extension, our un-session — is very open. There is a topic, but there are no set list of speakers. It is wisdom of the crowds in the conference format — it enables open, collaborative learning using a format that “creates space for peer-to-peer learning, collaboration and creativity.”

I’m thrilled to be working with Kathy Conrad, the principal deputy associate administrator of GSA’s Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies.

The UN-session is the final panel of the ELC’s technology innovation track. And our goal is to walk out of the UNsession with… homework, for lack of a better term. We want to come up with tools that people can take — and try — in their organization that encourage and enable innovation. And we are then continuing the sharing after ELC ends — I’ve created a section on GovLoop, the social network for government, where I hope people will share their lessons… what worked, what didn’t. (Hear Conrad talk about some of her thoughts on the GovLoop Insights Issue of the Week podcast from this past week.)

One of my new favorite books is Little Bets: How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge from Small Discoveries — and I think it is a book about innovation. It’s about making it a part of your live and your thinking. (A preview: The DorobekINSIDER book club will be coming back next year — and, if we can work out schedules, this will be our book. More to come. Stay tuned.)

Read our thoughts — and our notes for the un-session — after the break.

Let’s be honest: Government gets a bad rap about innovation. There are many instances of remarkable government innovation: the Internet is perhaps the best… and if you read the wonderful book The Pixar Touch, about the history of the Pixar movie company, it notes that the technology behind the Pixar movies got its start with ARPA (now DARPA) funding.

And there is innovation going on today — in many different ways. As I mentioned earlier, The New York Times reports that the postal union representing letter carriers’ has hired a former investment banker, and a the financial firm to help craft a plan to breathe some life into the ailing postal service… and Reuters reports that the is stepping up its five-year-old Defense Venture Catalyst Initiative, or DeVenCI, as a way to get high-tech advice.

Our goal for the un-session: To come out with three workable, real ideas that everybody can try to implement.

There is going on today. Many people are trying. But many are not. Many are sitting on the sidelines waiting for others to be innovative… and then ride those coattails. (Personally, I think that leaves an organization way behind — and, potentially, unable to catch up. You can only learn by doing.)

Innovation is difficult — inside or outside of government. There are a lot of challenges. Our goal is to acknowledge the world that we live in and figure out what we can actually do.

So we decided on some general ground rules.

Just do it: We are focused on the doable. We all know the challenges. The ELC Sunday keynote was Scott Klososky, who really made a very cogent call to innovate — each of us. And that meets our goal: To walk out with tools — something that you can take out and try. We will talk about challenges, but what is doable.

Everything is on the table: These days, there are no scared cows.

Focus on the present: We’re looking at what we can do today and in the days, weeks and months ahead. We don’t want to get stuck about what may haven’t worked at some point for some organization. We want to talk about the realm of the possible.

Some of the challenges we came up with:

Defining innovation: GSA Administrator Martha Johnson said that the goal with innovation is to interrupt, not disrupt. One of the challenges is that we focus on transformation versus process
improvement — and, of course, the challenge of targeting innovation resources

Participation: How do you expand beyond traditional boundaries, leverage the right people without knowing who or where they are

Leadership/Culture/Environment  – enabling innovation to thrive; how to infuse innovation within an organization’s culture.

Life Cycle process – not just coming up with an idea.  How to test, implement, scale and sustain viable innovations

Measuring results: Assessing return on investment — and capturing value – direct and indirect

This is not a complete list, of course — and because it is an UN-session, the people in the room get to decide what really matters.

I hope you’ll join the conversation — here or on GovLoop. Share your thoughts and ideas — and lessons.

Written by cdorobek

October 24, 2011 at 11:31 AM

One Response

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  1. […] on Technology and the Industry Advisory Council, took place last week in Williamsburg, VA. And I helped to lead an UNsession talking about government innovation. (I’m still looking for your thoughts: How would you finish the sentence: “I can help […]


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