Saturday, January 28, 2017

HHS Innovation Report Executive Summary



Executive Summary 

[Highlights added]

What are the critical ingredients that drive change and fuel a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship in large, complex organizations like the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)? 


The Innovation Horizons Project examines the hypothesis that government can create this culture through the use of key strategies and strong leadership. Experience to date, across the public and private sectors has shown that strong and clear leadership, employee empowerment to solve problems, management practices to test, evaluate and scale innovation, enabling technologies and a system of accountability are critical to cultivate and sustain innovation. This experience is supported by theories underpinning change management and delivery science but also proven methods and practices in HHS’s IDEA Lab under the direction of the Chief Technology Officer. These have included the effective demonstration of utility in crowd sourcing, design thinking, Agile, and Lean Startup methods, and employee recognition programs.
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Fostering a culture of innovation, however, would not be possible if an innovation strategy, which is an integral component of building a culture of innovation, does not account for the impact on the people within the organization.  Disruptive innovation can lead to more efficient alternative paths around existing complex business structures, but needs to be pursued without interrupting or compromising outcomes, such health care delivery or critical public health functions. The experience of the HHS IDEA Lab shows that learning and adapting through mentored experimental experiences allows for the responsive iteration of new concepts and process improvements that enable the scaling of valuable innovations. Business and management practices across most sectors are developing formal programs in innovation for competitive purposes to improve performance and achieve greater stakeholder value.
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Similar innovation practices have been adopted across all levels of government, but states and cities have more easily engaged end users of public programs than the federal government and have acted as test labs for larger governmental organizations.
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What are the key lessons learned from the HHS innovation experience thus far? One is that a central locus of expertise and assistance is valued by the organization to allow for testing and sharing of ideas before they’re fully scaled into programs or agency operations. The HHS IDEA lab has been a safe, effective, and efficient way for employees to incubate, test, refine and, when feasible, scale solutions that address HHS top priorities.
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From a management perspective, this approach diminishes aspects of risk (i.e., accountability, financial, and professional status) and enhances the value of the time and resources spent on exploring the new approach.
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Secondly, the approach taken to build the program activities has demonstrated merit in project outcomes and program performance. This is in part due to the responsiveness of the programs to customer needs. The current structure of programs and operations was conceived using the same approach as a business startup enterprise. HHS innovation programs were designed with user-centric input and not based on a Congressional mandate or specific operational blueprint from the executive branch.  The projects were designed, tested, and iteratively remolded to meet program needs through user feedback.  Despite leadership changes and political directives, the core operating principles were refined and ultimately served as a compass across government for bringing business concepts into operations with demonstrable results.
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Looking forward, while there is strong evidence suggesting that HHS innovation programs should continue, there are opportunities to explore de-centralized innovation program offerings through collaborations with agencies. However, these growth efforts will need additional resources to support the training and set up of the remote operations. In addition, the value of these programs can be strengthened by establishing incentives and performance benchmarks for managers to embrace employee problem-solving are an important consideration for HHS.
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Leadership is the most important variable in establishing a culture of innovation particularly in deciding where to take risk, and how to sustain innovation in normal work force operations (i.e., creating a ‘protected space’ for ideas to be tested). The public demonstration of commitment to innovation and provision of expectations on how risk and performance are managed as a result are critical elements of the leadership role to achieve positive culture change in the organization.
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The next administration may wish to secure financial and staff resources to sustain an innovation portfolio that achieves measurable improvements in performance for critical HHS programs and processes in order to realize the goal of better health, smarter spending and healthier people. One to consider is to use alternative methods for capital and operational budget support of innovation operations that are performed-based, and more strongly encourage and enable HHS programs and private sector collaborations in emerging areas of mutual benefit. On the road ahead, a new look could be taken at the roles of the Chief Technology Officer and in particular, it is suggested that two distinct positions for a Chief Transformation Officer and Chief Data Officer would allow for a more effective innovation, data, and technology strategies to be tested and scaled.
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Innovation within and across HHS programs will significantly enable accomplishment of key performance objectives for HHS including a successful transition to value-based health care payment, efficient regulation of medical products, improvements in clinical research, and responses to public health threats.  As the next administration develops and implements its top policy priorities and faces new challenges to its infrastructure and operations, there is a significant opportunity to build on the existing innovation programs and capabilities to drive improvements in health and health care throughout the delivery system. Building on a strong foundation, it is strongly advised that the new Administration develop capacities for culture change, particularly by enhancing innovation and entrepreneurships as highly visible values by the organization’s leaders, and reinforcing it through performance management practice policies.

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