What are the Challenges to Government Intrapreneurship?

What are the Challenges to Government Intrapreneurship?
By: Rob Hoehn

Government innovators face specific challenges: regulations, compliance issues, cooperation with numerous other branches of government…but they also access some of the most technical and influential trends of our time.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission, for example, protects public health and safety related to nuclear energy and to coordinate the efforts of the nearly 3,000 employees that manage power production, nuclear materials, incident response, and more they created a cross-agency innovation program.

The NRC Innovation program identified three types of ideas that they wanted to capture: suggestion box ideas (ideas that any employee believed could add value), crowdsourced ideas (insight from the crowd on specific challenges identified by leadership), and organic innovation (tracking and sharing successful ideas that had emerged organically so that they could be rolled out across the entire agency). By capturing ideas across all of these horizons, they were hoping to standardize implementation paths, reduce duplicative efforts, and engage their community in new ways.

But looking at those three innovation approaches reveals the common challenges in government intrapreneurship:

There is no place for ideas. Good ideas can happen anywhere, anytime. If you don’t have a place to store and evaluate them, it is unlikely that they will ever add benefit. If you can save your ideas, then you can also call them back up at anytime. Even if they aren’t perfect for your organization right now, they could possibly add value later. Defining a place for ideas means that ideas can retain their information and potential value for a long time. This is why it’s important to have an always-on suggestion box approach to innovation. Unfortunately, many government organizations haven’t standardized a place to store this data.

It is difficult to create alignment on core challenges. Leadership has a 360-degree view into an organization’s mission, successes, and struggles, but they don’t have the frontline experience to know how to address some of those challenges. Running an innovation jam helps to close that gap as respondents add context, color, new information and potentially solutions in response to the identified challenges. For many government agencies, it is difficult to find a way to collapse the distance between leadership and employees.

Success needs to be scaled. I’ve shared this story before. When NASA wanted to measure the volume of liquid in a zero-gravity environment, they asked if anyone else at NASA had a suggestion and it turns out that they did. In fact, that solution saved them four years of research and over a million dollars, but the best part is the fact that the solution of the microgravity capillary graduated cylinder came from someone who worked only 300 yards away from the person looking for a solution. By sharing a solution that was working for another project, they were able to save time and money for another time – transparently sharing success can be a resource library for many others. That’s why NRC has their success gallery of organic innovation. This only works if community members have some view into what others are working on and often innovation management software helps to do this.

Want to learn more? Find out how the Nuclear Regulatory Commission organizes their innovation program in this August 18th webiniar.

About the Author

Rob Hoehn is the co-founder and CEO of IdeaScale: the largest open innovation software platform in the world. Hoehn launched crowdsourcing software as part of the open government initiative and IdeaScale’s robust portfolio now includes many other industry notables, such as EA Sports, NBC, NASA, Xerox and many others. Prior to IdeaScale, Hoehn was Vice President of Client Services at Survey Analytics.

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