What Makes Some Federal Agencies Better Than Others at Innovation

05/01/2015 11:00 am ET | Updated May 01, 2016

Given the complexity and difficulty of the challenges that government leaders face, encouraging innovation among their workers can pay dividends. Government-wide employee survey data, however, suggest that much more needs to be done to foster this type of culture at many federal organizations.

According to that data, nearly 90 percent of federal employees are looking for ways to be more innovative and effective, but only 54 percent feel encouraged by their leaders to come up with new ways of doing work. To make matters worse, fewer than a third say they believe creativity and innovation are rewarded in their agencies.

It's worth pausing to examine what sets apart those agencies that do. They tend to have developed innovative cultures by providing forums for employees to share and test new ideas, by encouraging responsible risk taking, and by occasionally bringing in outside talent for rotational assignments to infuse new thinking into the workplace.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is one example of an agency working at this. In 2010 it created the Idea Lab, with the goal of "[removing] barriers HHS employees face and promote better ways of working in government."

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