Five lessons learned from federal innovators

By Lindsay Laferriere | December 2, 2019

The federal government is one of the most prolific innovators in modern history—sending astronauts to the moon, curing diseases across the globe and helping launch the internet. Despite this legacy, outdated systems, rules and processes hinder innovation at a time when government must grapple with an array of critical and complex 21st-century challenges. Technology alone will not prepare the federal government to respond to an increasingly complex array of issues. Agency leaders need to employ a suite of innovation methodologies, mindsets, processes and tools that will enable them to deliver outcomes more efficiently and effectively.

Earlier this month, the Partnership and Slalom Consulting hosted the Federal Innovation Summit to highlight lessons learned from successful federal innovations, bust myths about key barriers, and identify opportunities to implement proven practices. At the summit, the Partnership and Slalom also released a framework for innovative federal organizations, detailing the characteristics that can help federal agencies foster innovation and better serve the public.

Here are five key takeaways from the summit:

  1. Get feedback early and often, especially from people who could greenlight your idea. When innovators are working on a new idea or concept, it is easy to feel protective and avoid situations in which someone might question their approach. However, bringing an idea forward early improves the quality of the end product, and it also can help build buy-in and support from critical stakeholders.
  2. For effective hiring, use subject matter experts early in the application, resume and review processes. Recent pilots run by the Office of Personnel Management and the United States Digital Service demonstrated how to use subject matter experts to increase the likelihood of ending up with a pool of truly qualified applicants for technical positions at the GS-12 level and higher.
  3. Support and kindness builds trust, trust builds bridges, and bridges drive adoption of innovations. Innovation inevitably takes an organization into unknown and often risky territory. Success under these conditions requires leadership buy-in and resilient relationships, which can only occur when stakeholders trust each other.
  4. Dare to challenge norms. Participants heard from a range of inspiring practitioners who challenged them to defy convention in pursuit of more effective government.
  5. The community is strongest when it works together. The summit highlighted: how federal employees are introducing new ways to do business in their organizations; the innovation community’s commitment to share knowledge and expertise; and lessons learned from innovation leaders.  With the understanding that collaboration is critical, we established the Federal Innovation Council, a group of federal leaders committed to advancing innovation, who are working together to tackle some of the most significant barriers to innovation in government.

The Partnership is excited to continue shining a light on the extraordinary work happening in government and support the innovation community. Please visit our innovation page to learn more about our work: https://ourpublicservice.org/our-work/innovation/.


Lindsay Laferriere