Why Innovation is Difficult in Public Sector

On NPR this morning I heard a story about the new re-re-redesign of the Obamacare website. They began with a history of the early problems with the website. They told a story of many agencies who had no idea about what kind of communication a project of that size would take. After the initial problems of the first implementation, trying to fix the website, they hired a team from a silicon valley tech firm. While these young innovators had great ideas and skills, they clashed with management and their fear of making mistakes. They said the difference between these groups is that the young tech people were used to working fast, trying things out and not being afraid of failure (even seeing failure as part of the process) where the government managers were nearly paralyzed by their fear of publicly failing again.

I related to this story. Thankfully I haven’t had to work on the Obamacare website (I feel for those guys and gals!) but, as a government employee I am often faced with individuals with an overwhelming fear of trying something new and tend to be so cautious that they want to shoot down new ideas immediately or else get so many people involved and complicate and slow the process down so much that eventually the project will be reduced to a pale shadow of it’s former grand and exciting self. It made me wonder if the idea of being a learning technology leader in a government entity is just an oxymoron? We constantly live with the dark shadow of “we don’t want this to end up in the Times” whenever we try something new. This made me think – there must be some smart people who have found creative ways to carefully innovate in the public sector. I ran across this interesting white paper from Ideo, a consultancy who has had some neat success in helping government agencies all over the world with innovative projects.

Link to IDEO white paper


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