Feb 17 2009

Take Brainstorming to a Whole New Level

Employees are every agency’s front line.

At the Transportation Security Administration, most employees never enter our headquarters in Arlington, Va. Instead, 95 percent are on the job at more than 450 airports nationwide, interacting with 2 million people every day and working with hundreds of law enforcement agencies and disparate airport authorities. Yet, every one of them has valuable insights into their specific jobs as well as the agency’s function as a whole.

Town hall meetings and conference calls can do only so much. But Web 2.0 applications make it possible for each employee, regardless of rank or location, to offer input that others can see and that could make a difference in the TSA security mission.

The evolution of our two-year-old social network and ideas forum offers pointers on how your agency can apply this type of technology inexpensively and securely as a business tool:

Borrow Good Ideas

In early 2007, then TSA Administrator Kip Hawley saw how a computer manufacturer’s Web 2.0 tool let its customers post and rate ideas, which provided the company with valuable feedback. He saw tremendous possibilities for this type of tool at TSA, so he invited some innovative thinkers from various offices at the agency to make it happen.

Members of the IT office who were knowledgeable about Web 2.0 apps picked up on the idea and ran with it. They designed and built the tool on the TSA network from scratch in less than five weeks and called it the IdeaFactory. Other than work hours, there were no additional costs to build the tool. It resides on TSA’s intranet, where all employees can easily find it and participate.

Spread the Word

A tool by itself isn’t sufficient. We needed to raise awareness of the IdeaFactory throughout TSA to encourage participation once it launched. The Office of Strategic Communications and Public Affairs publicized the tool via e-mail and in our weekly employee newsletter. Public Affairs also produced a webcast with senior leaders talking directly to employees about the importance of participating in the IdeaFactory.

Soon, the IdeaFactory was being populated with ideas from all over the country on topics ranging from shift scheduling to screening items such as funerary urns. Ideas that garner the most votes rise to the top and receive the most attention. That’s where the IdeaFactory Review Team comes in: They look at the most popular ideas and determine if they can be implemented, and then get the ball rolling. Members of the review team come from various offices at TSA, including Security Operations, Human Capital, IT, Chief Counsel and Public Affairs.

Streamline Management

Three full-time employees monitor the IdeaFactory regularly. They look for any ideas that might already be implemented or are in the process of being implemented and let the poster know. Ideas that cannot be implemented, for whatever reason, are tagged as such. The IdeaFactory team also removes any offensive posts or comments, or posts that aren’t actually ideas. People who abuse the site can be banned from using it, although it rarely happens.

So far, employees have posted more than 7,000 suggestions, and TSA has implemented more than 20 IdeaFactory ideas enterprisewide. Local organizations have also adopted some ideas suggested by posters. Offices in TSA also now use the IdeaFactory to issue special challenges to generate ideas on specific topics, such as safety and communications, and these challenges in turn drive new traffic to the site.

The IdeaFactory continues to be a place where you can quickly take the pulse of the workforce and see what topics are hot on employees’ minds. And the best part: It’s just a click away.

<p>Photo: James Kegley</p>