Jan 05 2015

HHS IDEA Lab Seeks Next Round of Employee Innovators

Starting this month, HHS employees can submit their innovative proposals for improving department operations and programs.

Many in government wish they had the liberty to propose and test new ideas and to work alongside other innovators on high-impact projects.

For the Department of Health and Human Services’ 90,000 employees, those types of opportunities are offered through a budding initiative called the HHS IDEA Lab. Now in its second year, the lab announced a new round of applications for several of its programs, including the HHS Ignite Accelerator and HHS Ventures Fund.

“We plan on expanding on our services offered in 2015 in order to better support HHS employees across all parts of the Department,” Read Holman, program director in the HHS IDEA Lab, wrote in a recent blog post.

Through HHS Ignite Accelerator employees can pitch ideas for modernizing the department and increasing its effectiveness. Think boot camp meets Shark Tank, including the support to develop the pitch from idea to project. In December, the department announced 13 project teams that will receive funding and support during their three-month journey to beta test new solutions. The projects, which kick off this month, focus on various issues, including epidemic forecasting and developing a method for anonymizing and collecting electronic health record data in real time. (Learn more about the winter 2015 class of Ignite here.)

For proven ideas that are still in the early-development stages, employees can apply to the HHS Ventures Fund program. Unlike the Ignite Accelerator, “all projects should have been tested in some capacity and garnered evidence that it’s a good idea worth investing in,” according to HHS.

“Now, much like a Silicon Valley startup, we know that not every idea is going to make it,” HHS chief technology officer Bryan Sivak told Federal Times in an interview. “In fact, we kind of encourage it in a certain sense, because if every idea makes it, we’re not trying hard enough. We’re not pushing the envelope as far as we possibly can.”

Sivak, who leads the IDEA Lab, hopes to foster an entrepreneurial spirit within HHS through lab programs such as HHS Entrepreneurs-In-Residence.

As of Jan. 2, mid- and senior-level management staff could begin proposing projects that could benefit from private-sector expertise. Through the program, private-sector entrepreneurs can apply to work on a high-impact project within the department for one year.

“The period of time is important because it turns out that, if you only [have] a year to implement something, you're going to, by definition, do things differently than we typically do in government,” Sivak explained to Federal Times.


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