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Is government making inroads on innovation and impacting government efficiency?

Explore a candid survey of federal managers on innovation—a key component of government efficiency.


Federal agencies increasingly need to get creative to achieve their mission, especially amid today’s difficult budget environment. Furthermore, agencies have been asked to improve the ways in which they achieve their mission and move toward government efficiency. The Obama administration has identified establishing “cost and quality benchmarks for core operations” as a cross-agency priority goal with the intention of developing a baseline for driving continuous performance improvements.1

At the same time, challenges inherent to the federal environment complicate agency efforts to jumpstart innovative initiatives. IDEO’s 2011 “Innovation in Government” report concludes that agencies “lack an environment of grassroots innovation where new ideas can emerge at any time under any conditions.”2

There are opportunities, however, to align around the three pillars of strategic government efficiency—workforce, technology and mission support—to foster innovation and ultimately deliver public service for the future.


  1. Office of Management and Budget,

  2. Partnership for Public Service and IDEO; “Innovation in Government;” page 5; 2011,


In an effort to explore the government-wide innovation challenge, Accenture and Government Business Council (GBC) undertook an in-depth study to learn how and why federal agencies and their employees innovate, where gaps exist and what can be done to encourage day-to-day ideation.

Specifically, to assess the perceptions, attitudes and experiences of federal defense and civilian executives regarding their agencies’ support of innovation, GBC surveyed a sample of Government Executive, Nextgov and Defense One online and print subscribers in August 2014. The pool of 334 respondents includes GS-11 through senior executive service levels in at least 30 different civilian and defense agencies.


The survey revealed these findings:

Desire to cut costs and improve performance motivates innovation, on an individual and agency level

Federal agencies are constantly driven by the need to reduce costs, which 46 percent of respondents identify as a goal of innovation. Forty-four percent of agencies surveyed indicate that they innovate to improve mission effectiveness. Individuals are motivated by their desire to be productive and contribute to solutions—60 percent say they are driven by their commitment to public service and 49 percent say they innovate to improve their sense of job satisfaction.

There is room for increased support for innovation, especially at the leadership level

The survey identifies numerous cultural and institutional barriers to innovation, but perhaps one of the more pressing challenges is a need for leaders to be innovation advocates. Sixty percent of respondents report that a lack of leadership support deters them from adopting new ideas.

Collaboration is important for innovation, but agencies need the tools to enable it

Forty-six percent of respondents say they get inspiration from their coworkers, and 40 percent are inspired by other departments. However, 42 percent classify their digital collaboration tools as unsatisfactory or poor, indicating that there is room for improvement.

Creating a process for innovation could make it easier for new ideas to survive

Respondents suggest that innovation is largely unstructured and unsupervised—66 percent indicate that their agency does not set benchmarks or innovation goals, and nearly half (49 percent) do not feel that their agency effectively tracks the performance of new initiatives.



The survey identified three ways in which federal government can use innovation to help improve government efficiency:

  1. Get creative about how to foster innovation in the federal environment
    While the capacity to innovate is often attributed to characteristics such as open-mindedness, creativity and optimism, the government’s emphasis on following procedure may stifle this model. However, government may be able to use its process-oriented culture as a foundation on which to build guidelines that help employees raise and implement new ideas.

  2. Build a more risk-tolerant culture from the top down
    A formal approach to innovation will allow employee creativity to get off the ground,

    and it will also allow the level of oversight needed for agency leadership to successfully operate in the public eye. After creating a formal process for innovation, leaders should ensure the message is effectively passed on to employees.

  1. Take practical steps that will enable and maximize the culture shift
    Greater leadership support and encouragement alone will not create innovation–an innovation process also requires that employees get the resources and tools they need to implement their ideas. Ensuring that employees have access to effective digital collaboration tools, setting concrete benchmarks for task completion and using data to track new initiatives can aid the process.