Overview: Founded in 2017 off of a popular crowdsourcing initiative, the Government Services Administration (GSA)’s 10X program internally crowdsources ideas to design new approaches and launch new programs. Its success is due to a mixture of transparency, willingness to discuss when ideas won’t work, and accepting failure as part of the innovation process.
What Is The General Services Administration?
The General Services Administration, or GSA, has the job of ensuring government employees have what they need to do their jobs. Everything from the pens at the desk to the office space employees work out of is bought and delivered by the GSA. In fact, one of the GSA’s first jobs after its founding in 1949 was renovating the White House, which had fallen into disrepair.
In addition, the GSA is expected to find as many cost efficiencies as possible without compromising the quality of either products or work. This makes the GSA a mix of procurement office, logistics company, property manager, and auditor across one of the most complex organizations on Earth.
It’s a role in government that demands constant innovation. And in 2015, that was what the GSA set out to encourage more of.
Launching Innovation With “The Great Pitch”
In 2015, the GSA held what was intended to be a one-off event called “The Great Pitch.” Hosted by what was at the time the agency’s Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies, the idea was inspired by funding rounds in the VC sector. People would come in to pitch their ideas to use technology to help make government more efficient, and the GSA would quickly commit a small amount of funding to test the idea, expanding it if they saw results.
The event was so popular it quickly became an ongoing program. It led to ideas such as the open-source repository Code.Gov; the U.S. Web Design System, which created a set of standards and practices to make government websites easier to use and mobile-friendly; and Login.Gov, which consolidates login credentials for the public so they can use the same email and password for sites such as USAJobs and the U.S. Small Business Administration.
The innovation hub called 10X would be formally declared in 2018, and in the intervening years, the initiative formalized a four-step process with rising levels of fiscal and time commitment.
- The first step is feasibility, where the viability of the idea and the need for it is tested over a few weeks.
- Second, the idea is looked at through the lens of regulation and market needs and whether the idea can be scaled up enough to make it worth the commitment.
- The third phase is alpha testing, developing a prototype with other government agencies and testing it to ensure it’s a viable product.
- The fourth phase is the familiar beta test, rolling out the product to a larger group and seeing if it will scale up.
The ultimate goal is a product, process, or procedure that makes the biggest difference to the most people. In particular, the agency is looking for what it’s nicknamed “dark matter,” elements and ideas that they find during the process that might lead to something else.
The process is so effective that in 2021, 22 different ideas are being explored on topics ranging from data science to civil rights education. And the GSA has learned a few lessons over the last six years that explain their success.
Pick A Focused Crowd
The 10X program draws entirely from the federal civil service. This is on the belief that the people who work with the products and processes of federal government every day are uniquely situated to understand how they could better serve the public.
It’s also a crowd the GSA knows very well. Remember, they interact with every branch of government every day, so there’s already an eager crowd looking to offer feedback.
Start Small And Build
Every one of the 10x projects the GSA has launched started with a small commitment of resources, mostly money and time, to test the idea out thoroughly before launching. Part of this is the unique mandate of government innovation; since every citizen is a stakeholder, and it’s ultimately their money being spent, care with resources and progression of ideas is built into the concept.
However, this also allows them to fill in the “negative space” issues around innovation, learning what stakeholders they need to speak to and what needs to be checked before moving forward and committing more resources.
The first two phases of the process take an absolute maximum of five months, with the first phase taking less than a month and the second allowed a maximum of twelve weeks. This offers two benefits; one, if an idea doesn’t work, it can be archived, lessons learned drawn from it, and those involved can move on.
Two, it means that feedback on ideas comes quickly. Ideas aren’t thrown into a suggestion box and disappear. They’re considered and brought forward fast, showing that they’ve been considered and valued, driving more engagement.
Don’t Be Afraid To Pull The Plug
If an idea doesn’t work, the 10X team makes it clear that it’s the end of the process. Yet while there are no guarantees, the “dark matter” policy discussed above ensures that there are no failures. Every idea and its results are discussed transparently, making it easier to understand when an idea’s journey ends and why.
Just as importantly, it builds in iteration and makes it easier for others to offer new ideas. The 10X team also notes that just because an idea doesn’t work for their process doesn’t mean the idea doesn’t work. It simply may need to be taken somewhere else. In fact, one of the most common reasons an idea doesn’t move forward is the GSA has been beaten to it, and it’s in development elsewhere in the government.
Government innovation programs like 10X have plenty to teach any organization looking to build a powerful innovation strategy.
This blog was first published on the IdeaScale.com blog.