An Open Innovation Toolbox

The Obama Administration’s innovation agenda is aimed at finding, testing, and scaling new ideas that change the way government conducts business and delivers services through engagement with the American people.   An innovative government incorporates an entrepreneurial mindset into its daily work – taking risks, building lean organizations, and developing innovative products and services faster than the rest of the world.

On his last day in office, then-U.S. Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra released the Open Innovator’s Practitioner’s Toolbox.  It contains 20 of the best disruptive innovation practices conceived and built by entrepreneurs across government.  They provide a rich set of guiding principles that any Federal, state, and local government can use to support rapid innovation supporting economic growth and job creation.

Rocket fuel for Innovation

A key component of open innovation is the identification and publication of machine-readable government data.  By releasing such data, we can build new ways of understanding, using, and visualizing the delivery and impact of government functions. 

These government data become the rocket fuel necessary for innovators to do what they do best – innovate.  One example of the power of open data is the Community Health Data Initiative, which released a wealth of data on health care and determinants of health performance to the public, free of charge and without any intellectual property constraint, in an accessible, standardized, structured, downloadable format.  Using these data, the Department of Health and Human Services built an insurance finder application that not only allows citizens to see what public- and private-sector insurance options are available in their area but also gives the public a better understanding of the quality of care that is delivered.   Another example of this approach is Blue Button, a collaborative effort between the Departments of Veterans Affairs and Health and Human Services, which allows individuals to access and download information from their My HealtheVet personal health record into a simple text file or PDF that can be read, printed, or saved on any computer. It gives people complete control of this information to share with healthcare providers, caregivers, and other trusted individuals. 

Role of Government as Impatient Convener

But the government does more than release data.  Another way that the government helps innovators is to step back and allow the private sector to do what it does best – create jobs and opportunities for citizens.  In this role, the government acts as an impatient convener – bringing together a range of experts to develop consensus-based standards that enable innovation.  One such example is the Vets Job Bank.  As part of the Administration’s commitment to improve access to employment opportunities for returning service members and veterans, the Vets Job Bank provides veterans with a central source for finding hundreds of thousands of private-sector openings.  Government didn’t create the Bank, but it brought together the public- and private-sector leaders required to develop the rough consensus, code, and search capabilities that enable it to work.

Challenging Others to be Co-creators of Solutions

Enabled by the COMPETES Act, the use of challenges and prizes has become a valuable tool for involving entrepreneurs, innovators, and the curious public in solving some of the most vexing problems facing America.  Oftentimes through only a small monetary incentive, the public and private sector taps into the Nation’s top talent, potentially leading to game-changing and innovative solutions to the challenging problems we face.   One recent example is the Race to the Rooftop for Solar Power sponsored by the Department of Energy.  Local and regional teams competed by identifying best practices to make installing solar energy cheaper and less cumbersome.  At the end of the challenge, 22 of 46 applicants from 17 states were selected to share in $12 million of awards.


Through the leadership of the President, Aneesh Chopra, and countless others, government has been opened to innovators and entrepreneurs who have implemented a new vision of what can be accomplished.  The result is a dynamic network of public servants, private-sector leaders, and social entrepreneurs pooling their knowledge and resources to address our most pressing challenges.  One approach has been to develop entrepreneurs-in-residence pilot projects at, for example, the Food and Drug Administration, where entrepreneurs from outside of government have been working with staff on a focused approach to design a new pathway for approval of medical devices. 

Need Your Help

It is gratifying to look back at how far the Federal government has come in a few short years.  The Federal government now embraces the contributions that innovators and entrepreneurs give to our country.  The result is a dynamic network of public servants, private-sector leaders, and social entrepreneurs pooling their knowledge and resources to address our most pressing challenges. But to truly scale this approach, we need your help.  Are you up to the challenge?  We want to hear from you.  Please send your ideas for how we can innovate even more to  And stay tuned for future blog posts, as we provide new opportunities for your participation and collaboration in this worldwide movement of open innovation. 

Chris Vein is Deputy U.S. Chief Technology Officer for Government Innovation

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