Forging an innovative government capable of meeting 21st-century challenges

July 17, 2019

In photo above: The logo for the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. Credits: NASA/Matthew Skeins

This week marks the 50th anniversary of the NASA Apollo 11 mission, which landed the first astronaut on the moon. As we celebrate this historic occasion, let’s remember the accomplishment represents a distinctive moment of government innovation.

In the decades since, the federal government has continued to pioneer new and inventive products, services and discoveries. It helped launch the Internet, develop the first global positioning systems, and spur a biotechnology revolution. In fact, ambitious federal initiatives catalyzed many of the most important human achievements over the past half century.

These initiatives were launched, and eventually succeeded, because innovative public servants used vision, collaboration and resources to overcome a problem.

Today, the country faces complex challenges, from figuring out how to solve the opioid crisis to determining how to adopt rapidly emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence to more frequent and destructive natural disasters. The public expects government to spur action on these and many other issues. That can only happen through a commitment by leaders to transform the culture of government and embrace new methodologies, mindsets, processes and tools, so agencies can respond quickly and effectively to the public’s needs.

Many federal agencies were created in a different era and often are hindered by outdated policies or regulations that impede their effectiveness. Organizational culture is notoriously resistant to change, and progress will require the collective effort from federal agencies and individuals and organizations committed to an effective government.

Government modernization efforts are underway, and agencies can build on these by identifying promising ongoing efforts and adapting them for their organizations.

Our vision for an innovative federal culture would require organizations to:

  • Design their services around the needs of people.
  • Empower public servants to pursue new ways of doing business, providing resources and support for them to take risks, learn from mistakes and solve problems rapidly.
  • Test and invest in new ideas and incorporate what works.
  • Prioritize evidence-based decision-making.
  • Improve performance by creating programs to collect and skillfully use data.
  • Identify potential employees with the skills agencies need and provide government employees with training and autonomy to improve agencies’ operations.
  • Eliminate obsolete regulations, programs, practices and technologies that hinder government effectiveness.

As we look back on the 50 years since the first moon landing, we seek to reinvigorate government in the mold of the culture, strategies and values that led to Neil Armstrong’s historic first step and will help us all achieve the next moonshot.

Stay tuned for more details about the Partnership’s agenda to improve government innovation.