Governing by Suggestion Box

The Obama Administration is stepping up its efforts to solicit ideas from employees.  In its first big effort, the SAVE Light BulbAward (Securing Americans Value and Efficiency), the Office of Management and Budget encouraged employees to submit cost savings ideas.  As of the end of the 6-week long contest period, OMB said it had received 38,400 ideas.  They will spend a few weeks sorting through them and the “winner” will get to present his or her idea to the President sometime in November and it would be included in the President’s FY 2011 budget.

The White House then announced another contest, this time for “greening” the government.  This new contest, the Green Gov Challenge, runs through the end of the month (Halloween).  This contest will hopefully help agencies meet a separate challenge from the President, where he gave agencies a 90-day deadline to come up with plans to lower their carbon footprints.

Individual agencies have developed on-going innovation programs to solicit ideas from employees.  The most well-known is the TSA Idea Factory, which was created two years ago and receives over 300 suggestions per month on ways to improve operations in the Transportation Security Agency.  This has been so successful, it is being adopted at the departmental level by the Department of Homeland Security and is being looked at by other agencies as a potential model.

What will be interesting is to find out what the best practices are in such efforts. 

  • Can they be run ad hoc or should there be a strategic frame?  Is a six-week period (e.g. SAVE Award) better than two weeks (e.g GreenGov) in terms of getting good ideas? 
  • What about incentives (meeting with the president vs. just getting your ideas heard)? 
  • What about the kinds and size of staffs to sort through the ideas received (38,400 suggestions, at one page apiece, would be equivalent to 8 cartons of Xerox paper)? 
  • Can you run them continuously, or should they be spaced out, say, once a quarter so the novelty doesn’t wear off? 
  • Should visitors to the websites be able to comment on others’ suggestions or vote for them, like the TSA Idea Factory allows?

These will be interesting questions to explore, especially if the “governing by suggestion” effort expands!

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