Using Innovative Practices for Change in Local Government

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Innovative programs have the potential to change the way people see local government.

With shrinking budgets and dwindling resources, local governments—like all organizations—are having to do more with less. Many governments are turning to innovative practices to make ends meet and provide additional services where needed.

Innovation, however, is not always easy. Organizations tend to have something that Phil McKinney, former CTO of Hewlett-Packard’s Personal Systems Group and current innovation mentor and coach, calls “innovation antibodies.”

“Much like antibodies in our immune system attack and destroy foreign objects that might harm the body, ‘antibodies’ in your organization identify and neutralize forces that threaten to destabilize a company,” he explains. “Corporate antibodies can stunt a company’s growth…when they shut down the fresh ideas and unconventional thinkers it so badly needs.”

To combat this tendency, some local governments have created a leadership role called the “Chief Innovation Officer” or CINO. The CINO is responsible for driving and directing innovation within an organization. Being a good CINO requires a certain adventurous personality type, but also a skill set that can be obtained through an online master of public administration program, such as Ohio University’s online MPA. The education provided through this program can prepare candidates to drive innovation in local government, thus boosting the benefits of public administration to society.

The Job of a Chief Innovation Officer

So what makes a great chief innovation officer? According to McKinney, every good CINO should have these five key traits:

  1. A High Credibility Factor. CINOs should not only be respected by the employees in the organization, they must be respected by the other officers as well. A track record of successful innovations will add credibility to a CINO’s recommendations and make bringing other leaders to their vision easier.
  2. The Ability to See and Communicate the Future. A CINO must have the vision to see where a trend might be going, identify future needs, and contemplate how those needs will be filled. The CINO must then be able to communicate those predictions in ways that make sense to others within a government or organization.
  3. The Ability to Drive Ideas and Action Around His or Her Vision. It’s not enough to have a vision. A CINO must have the power to drive ideas and actions around that vision to make it a reality.
  4. The Ability to Identify, and Disarm, the Innovation Antibodies. A CINO must be able to identify those team members who are resistant to change and figure out why, and what it will take to disarm them.
  5. The Ability to Build and Bridge Connections. CINOs must prioritize building connections, both within the organization and with other organizations. A CINO should be willing to set aside ego and not worry about who gets credit for an innovation, but rather foster openness and transparency to drive collaborative change.

Examples of Success

The push to innovate is a recent trend in government, which has often been seen as slow to evolve. In a short period, however, some notable successes are proving that the innovation model is workable, when handled well.

Examples of success include:

18F program. 18F is an office of federal employees within the General Services Administration (GSA) that collaborates with other agencies to fix technical problems, build products, and improve how government serves the public through technology. Established in 2014, 18F is a nationwide team of about 120 designers, software engineers, strategists and product managers—all federal employees. The group’s core mission is to, “deliver digital services that instill pride and trust, meet user needs, are secure, and are delivered quickly and at reasonable cost.”

PulsePoint. PulsePoint is an app developed and implemented by the local government in Jackson County, OR. Anyone certified in CPR can sign up for the app, which informs subscribers when health emergencies occur in their immediate area. Subscribers can rush to the emergency location and begin delivering life-saving care, saving precious minutes before EMTs arrive on the scene.

Documenters program. In Detroit, MI, community members are paid to live-tweet and post on social media during community events such as school board meetings. According to Darryl Holliday, the program’s cofounder, the Documenters program not only informs those who can’t attend, it also gets residents involved in the conversation at meetings.

Community court for the homeless. In Fort Lauderdale, FL, a community court has been established to handle minor transgressions among the homeless. Penalties involve community service rather than jail time. This innovative program saves money and helps the community in one clean stroke.

Through these programs and many others, CINOs and other public leaders are revolutionizing public service. According to Xavier Hughes, CINO of the International City/County Management Association, these efforts are not just practical, they also have the potential to change the way people see local government.

“Our local communities are what define and drive America—a country fueled by hard work, passion, commitment, and an endless quest towards excellence. Local governments can serve as an inspiration to state and federal operators and policy makers,” he says.

Step by step, innovation by innovation, local governments—and the individuals who run them—can be agents of change with an impact far beyond the local level.

About Ohio University’s Online Master of Public Administration (MPA) program

Ohio University’s online MPA program is dedicated to preparing professionals for a career in public administration. Through the University’s prestigious Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs, students gain an overview of the scope of public administration work while building skills in policy, finance, leadership, business, management, and communications. The school occupies the No. 12 spot in the SR Education Group’s 2019 Best Online Colleges Offering MPA Programs ranking.

The program, which is 100% online, offers four concentrations: Crisis and Emergency Management, Public Leadership and Management, Non-Profit Management, State and Local Government. Students can finish their degree programs in as few as two years. For more information, contact Ohio University now.

Recommended Reading:

Working in Public Administration

Developing Successful Public-Private Partnerships

Public Policy vs. Public Administration: How Do Public Organizations Get Things Done?


Innovation antibodies – Killer Innovations

Five Traits of a CINO – Killer Innovations

About 18F – 18F

PulsePoint, Documenters, and community court – International City/County Management Association

Changing the perception of local government – International City/County Management Association