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Government Innovation Needs More than External Fellows To Stick

by Andrea Di Maio  |  September 1, 2012  |  4 Comments

I am just back from my holidays, which I spent with my family in Australia. I had a great time, also because I decided to resist the temptation of doing any work-related activity unless it was extremely urgent for a client-facing deadline (but a bit of luck and good planning made these very few and light). While I was sunbathing in Northern Queensland I read about the nomination of Presidential Fellows, who are supposed to help the US Federal Government carry forward five key innovation initiatives under its hyperactive new CTO’s (Todd Park)  guidance.

Selected fellows are startup and serial entrepreneurs. web developers, open data experts, software engineers. They constitute a first class, with more to come, and their role – in Park’s words –  is to

leverage the ingenuity of leading problem solvers from across America together with federal innovators to tackle projects that aim to fuel job creation,


bring their entrepreneurial expertise to the table that has helped jump-start high-tech companies, increase efficiency and public engagement, and redefine how technology is used in business.

The five projects where this new type of collaboration will take place are:

  • Blue Button: extending to all Americans the ability to download and access their health records, currently available to veterans
  • RFP-EZ: to allow small and dynamic businesses to more easily access federal procurement opportunities
  • MyGov: to reinvent the way citizens deal electronically with government. taking inspiration from what the UK has been doing with
  • 20% initiative: to move a substantial portion of foreign assistance payments from cash to electronic means
  • Open Data Initiative: strengthening and extending the Health Data Initiative to other areas

The process of formally associating non-government experts to government innovation initiatives is very interesting and I’m sure the public sector community will look at this with great interest.

The main challenge, as I said in a previous post, is whether and how these initiatives can be sustained and become part of the normal course of business.

Park’s entrepreneurial style and his successes when at HHS suggest that most of these initiatives could bear fruits. However the attention span of this administration is rapidly shifting toward an upcoming election with a more uncertain outcome than many would have expected. The federal employees who are supposed to work with the fellows on these innovations, and who are key to ensure their sustainability, may be holding their breath, waiting for the elections.

If there is a change of administration, it is reasonable to expect significant changes to the IT leadership – as most of the appointees have been active supporters of the first Obama’s campaign and have worked on his transition team.

But even if the administration stays the same, priorities may have to change to cope with economic uncertainties, job creation and preservation. While the impetus behind most of these initiatives is to create business opportunities from government programs, previous downturns in the US and elsewhere have shown that political attention often focuses on old industries and old jobs, to preserve or create low-hanging fruit employment opportunities.

The focus should be less on launching cool innovations but on making sure that those or even less cool one arte made to stick, even after the serial entrepreneurs and software engineers move on to their private sector pastures.

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Category: e-government  open-government-data  web-20-in-government  

Tags: us-cto  

Andrea Di Maio
Managing VP
19 years at Gartner
33 years IT industry

Andrea Di Maio is a managing vice president for public sector in Gartner Research, covering government and education. His personal research focus is on digital government strategies, open government, the business value of IT, smart cities, and the impact of technology on the future of government Read Full Bio

Thoughts on Government Innovation Needs More than External Fellows To Stick

  1. Martha Dorris says:

    As the owners of and, we are extremely fortunate to work with a group of fellows on the MyGov project that can bring new thinking and innovation to areas we have struggled with for many reasons. Having resources and political will behind these efforts will hopefully reap benefits that we can sustain and incorporate into the way we interact, engage and serve the American people for years to come. My sense thus far is that we won’t be disappointed.

  2. Agreed and of course I wish you all the best. My only contention is that I’d love to see more kudos and a clearer role for the goverment employees who, in the US as well as in the UK, are the unsung heros of innovation and transformation.

  3. Jared Gulian says:

    In New Zealand we’ve just taken down our old NZ Government Web Standards website and replaced it with a new site using WordPress. The new site is called the Web Toolkit. It still provides guidance, tips, and strategic advice on how to effectively use the online channel for government communications, but it also has a blog. The blog will provide information on topics relevant to government communications and web teams, including information on all-of-government projects. There will be occasional guest bloggers from across New Zealand government, so we’re hoping it will encourage cross-agency sharing. For more on the NZ Government Web Toolkit, see the blog post, “Why the Web Toolkit?”. –

  4. edemocracy says:

    Nice information you have shared. I really like your post. You have tell clearly everything. Thanks for sharing this here.

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