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Posted by on Mar 23, 2015 and Federal Human Capital

As part of Sunshine Week, the General Services Administration’s 18F Team unveiled a new real-time analytics dashboard at that, according to the site “provides a window into how people are interacting with the government online.” Already, experts are gathering insights from the data that will both inform improvements to Federal customer service and shape the next generation of open data initiatives and dashboards to support data-driven decisions across the Federal government.

By now, you might be wondering, why someone with an interest in human capital, leadership development, and organization development is blogging about a web traffic analytics platform. And, when I first stumbled on the site, while I found it interesting in the “I’m a data nerd sort of way,” it wasn’t until I read the blog on how the site was built that I connected the dots.

The dashboard is completely open source, uses publically-available data (that can be downloaded directly from the page) on commercial platforms (Google Analytics, Amazon S3, and Amazon CloudFront), and was built in 2-3 weeks. In an environment that is, at times, criticized for inefficiency, unnecessary bureaucracy, and being behind the times, the 18F Team and their partners in the Digital Analytics Program demonstrate how unique approaches to organizing and managing work can foster innovation, even in large Federal Agencies like GSA.

Here are a few characteristics of the 18F Team that could be adopted in other agencies to help drive innovation:

  • Leverage diverse skill sets and backgrounds – the 18F team is a group of “doers recruited from the most innovative corners of industry and the public sector.” Having multiple perspectives and backgrounds on the team contributes to creativity, helps solve difficult problems, and builds a sense of inclusion that fosters sharing.
  • Find people who are passionate about the mission – Along with multiple perspectives, the 18F Team is united around a shared passion for driving efficiency, transparency, and savings for government agencies. Passion builds commitment and energy that can increase engagement, discretionary effort, and encourage productive risk taking.
  • Look for quick wins and build on them later – The team acknowledges that is just the first step and that the lessons they learn and feedback they get as the public interacts with the data will improve future dashboard products. Finding ways to rapidly introduce change that include a plan for gathering and exploiting lessons learned can be a strong springboard for larger innovation and change efforts.
  • Build from areas of strength – The analytics platform uses existing technologies, initiatives, and capabilities within GSA to provide a new way of interacting with the public and improving agency decisions. Every agency has pockets of excellence and strengths that can serve as a platform for experimentation and evolutionary (rather than revolutionary) change. Building from strength increases the likelihood of success while at the same time celebrating what’s going well within the agency.

The success of the 18F Team and (which is only one of the team’s projects) provides a great model for innovation in Federal agencies. What other lessons learned do you see in the roll out of this new platform?

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