When the Innovations are Small

Posted on August 2, 2018


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I love reading about communities who are embracing innovative. The communities that are looking for the big wins. I don’t work for one of those communities, at least not yet. We will get there, but we are at the beginning of that path. Our innovations are small and simple right now, but those small and simple innovations are still wins.

When you are starting down the path of innovation and data-driven government there is a lot of difficult work. Every community that has made it to the big win category started with the hard stuff and some small innovations.

Many people take for granted the simple things that are required to build an ecosystem that allows the innovation, process improvement, and data-driven decisions. Innovation occurs at all levels. It doesn’t have to come from an i-team or Chief Innovation Officer. In fact the simple definition of innovation from Merriam-Webster is “the introduction of something new”.

Simply introducing something new doesn’t sound as daunting as innovation. Small innovations are valuable and can systemically cause transformation over time. This is the work we can do every day, like improving forms, updating websites, changing communication methods, and upgrading phone systems. They are not flashy, but they are the basis to improving the function of local government.

What does incremental innovation look like?

  • Phone System: Working in an office which responds to inspection requests, questions about inspection results, permitting questions, and enforcement, it is important for a caller to talk to a human. Setting up simple hunt groups and ring groups to make sure each caller gets the best chance of having the phone answered is innovation to me.
  • Adobe Forms: Sometimes I take for granted the privilege I have had in learning the Adobe Suite. In every community I have worked in, I have found that many employees have not learned to use Adobe Acrobat to create fillable forms. This is easy low hanging innovation – transforming from badly scanned forms online to fillable forms.
  • Website Content: Taking a few minutes to examine website content and rearrange it based on what a community member may is looking for vs. what we want to tell them can be simple innovation.
  • Benchmarking: When you work for a community that doesn’t have the software systems to track incoming project submittals for permitting, planning, or any other unit that accepts submittals, an excel tracker can be used to benchmark review and return times.

If it is something new or improved, and it solves a problem or makes a process better, I’m clapping my hands. When we are in the trenches each day we forget that small wins make for incremental innovation. Incremental innovation leads to larger transformation. Years down the road it will be easy to see our progress, but for today remember to celebrate the small innovations too.

Let’s celebrate the incremental innovation by sharing our incremental wins. Tweet at us @jordanrhillman and @elgl50


What I’m Reading: The Color of Law by Richard Rothstein

What I’m Listening to: Strong Towns Podcast

What I’m Re-Watching: The Wire

#localgov enthusiast.

ELGL Board Member.

Speaker. Author. Advisor.

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