Is your agency ready for an innovation office? A new report from the IBM Center for the Business of Government offers practical advice for agencies on how to create and sustain an innovation office.

Author:Burstein, Rachel

Innovation has become a government buzzword, encompassing all sorts of efforts from internal technology improvements to civic engagement strategies. Many projects folded under the innovation heading are renamed subsets of previously existing government functions, while others are new programs added to current portfolios. But alongside these projects is something relatively new: the creation of innovation offices and chief innovation officer posts.

Identifying the Mission

In recent years, several public entities have established siloed offices and chief innovation officer posts designed to fulfill a variety of missions. A number of factors contribute to this trend:

* need for cost-saving mechanisms in the wake of the economic downturn

* interest in leaner alternatives to large-scale R&D programs

* increased use of open data and transparency programs

* philanthropic investment in innovation structures at the local level

* establishment of federal innovation structures, such as the Presidential Innovation Fellows Program.

Although innovation offices and chief innovation officer posts can look very different in different places, both in focus and in structure, they typically are divided into two categories. Innovation efforts in the first category primarily pursue internally focused missions. In other words, they affect government. Examples include civic engagement efforts, strategic partnerships, and issue-oriented change.

The second category comprises efforts interested in pursuing externally focused missions that affect the larger community. Some examples are establishing greater efficiencies, creating cultural change, and establishing clear innovation processes. In certain cases, these efforts may overlap or evolve over time.

Discerning the Value

Before an agency can consider the mission, though, it must weigh the value that a chief innovation officer or innovation office might bring versus the investment it requires, as well as alternative approaches to achieve the desired outcome. In our report published by the IBM Center for the Business of Government, we interviewed government innovation office leaders to gain a clear picture of the critical decision factors.

Not surprisingly, a strong sense of the mission, as well as an understanding that the mission cannot be achieved through other means, is a requirement for establishing an innovation office. In addition, leaders must determine whether there are adequate resources to support the...

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