Opening Up Innovation

Some individuals consider government innovation to be an oxymoron, but the truth is that Gov. 2.0 tools enable agencies to create a platform for collaboration and open innovation in which ideas are collected from internal and external participants.

Here in the city of Manor, Texas, IT innovation is limited only by the imagination of our 6,500 citizens. We deployed an open innovation portal called Manor Labs, powered by Spigit, to better channel ideas and suggestions for our city and, in the process, create a more open government.

Would a business develop and launch a new product without any customer input? No. The same should be true in government. We have developed products and processes for our customers (also known as citizens) in most cases without bringing them into the loop. To address this problem in Manor, we launched Manor Labs.

Here's how the open innovation portal works:

  1. A participant (citizen, employee or other interested party) submits an idea for our agency.
  2. The idea is vetted by other participants. It must have a certain number of votes, comments, page views, etc., to graduate to the next stage.
  3. If the idea graduates, an official in the appropriate department reviews it. If there is enough information to proceed, the idea advances to the next stage; if more information is needed, it's sent back to the initial stage.
  4. The Innovation Committee reviews the idea and either implements it or aborts it.   
  5. If an idea is implemented, the participant is rewarded; if the idea is aborted, the citizen is given a transparent reason it could not be implemented.

We use game mechanics to encourage sustainability in the innovation process. To accomplish this, we use a virtual currency called "Innobucks" to reward participants for tasks they complete on the platform. If a participant submits an idea, he receives 5,000 Innobucks; if he votes on someone else's idea, he gets 150 Innobucks. If his idea is implemented, he earns 300,000 Innobucks. At any time, participants can trade their Innobucks for prizes in the Manor Labs store. Tangible benefits include restaurant gift certificates, a ride with the chief of police and a chance to be mayor for a day.

Using Manor Labs, we've implemented six ideas and are piloting several others. The platform has sparked more civic participation in routine city functions, which leads to a more connected and engaged community. 

Lessons Learned

1. Open innovation starts with a mindset. An organization and its employees must see and understand the value of open innovation.

2. Open innovation is scalable. There is no magic number of employees or citizens needed to make innovation possible. No matter the agency size or budget constraints, open innovation can thrive. In addition, we can easily adjust our idea graduation parameters (votes, comments, etc.) and game mechanics as usage grows.

3. Open innovation should be fun. Ask yourself, "Would I contribute to this platform in my free time after my regular 8-to-5 job?" If the answer is no, the platform or process still needs tweaking.

4. Open innovation needs a platform. Managing innovation is the key to its sustainability within an organization. Find a platform that automatically graduates ideas based on user feedback and uses game mechanics to build user engagement and sustainability. In the process, ask yourself, "Would I use this?"

Aug 24 2010