Innovation is essential – why is it so difficult to spread what works?
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Innovation is essential – why is it so difficult to spread what works?

December 12, 2019 | Updated on May 17, 2022
Henry Feinstein

Many federal employees, like the outstanding civil servants recognized by our annual Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medals, are finding new and creative ways to accomplish the mission of their agencies.  

For the government to accelerate this creative process and improve service to the public, innovative ideas need to spread across agencies and departments, and into core federal programs and practices. Yet far too many innovative ideas never achieve widespread adoption. Why not and what can be done about it?  

The Partnership for Public Service and a task force of senior government innovation leaders are committed to identifying and addressing barriers to innovation so new ideas can be introduced and integrated into everyday practices.  

Numerous barriers exist at the agency level and prevent innovative ideas from being adopted across the government. 

At the agency level, innovation requires an organizational culture that encourages employees to take risks by developing and implementing new ideas. But employees do not always have leadership support or the skills needed to break through the status quo. In addition, agency officials often find it difficult to reach consensus on how to move forward, and are reluctant to provide the resources to test and, if successful, expand the new approaches. 

On the government-wide level, policy differences from one organization to the next prevent innovation from being quickly applied to new contexts—what is permitted in one agency may not be permitted in another. 

In addition, without consistent technologies across government, programs created in one organization often cannot be adopted by another that uses a different technology platform. It also is difficult to collaborate with multiple government contractors when trying to implement new policies and procedures. 

Step one to successful innovation is acknowledging and identifying the barriers to innovation. Do any of these common barriers sound familiar to you? 

How can you overcome these hurdles? Read this post on 13 key ways for federal agencies to innovate.

Please visit our innovation page to learn more about our work shining a light on the extraordinary work happening in government and to support the innovation community.

Henry Feinstein is a former member of the Partnership’s Research and Evaluation team.