Let’s be honest — innovation in government can be difficult. It isn’t because government workers are less innovative. The the contrary — in my experience, government workers are more victims of bureaucracy then they are purveyors of it. Yet those of us who watch government closely understand the real courage that goes into significant change.
Of course, the government’s anti-innovation reputation is really proposterous. After all, it was the U.S. federal government that spurred the creation of the Internet — and there have been few innovations that have changed all of our lives more then that innovation. But the creation of the Internet, of course, grew from an effort to enable to the government to do it’s job better — the goal was to create a redundant network. Essentially, the innovation grew out of an effort to do business better.
The challenge with government innovation: There is little upside that comes from success, but the risk of failure has significant. To put it simply, the government does tolerate failure — and innovation is difficult, if not impossible, without the chance of failure. (It is one of the reasons why I appreciated Jeff Jarvis’s book, What Would Google Do? — and featured it in the Federal News Radio Book Club last year.)
With that as background, all of that brings me to the Better Buy Project, a marvelous, innovative — and courageous — initiative to try and improve the government procurement process. It is an attempt to tap the wisdom of crowds, openness and transparency to the government contracting and procurement process.
The initiative has had several steps — it started out as a discussion in GovLoop’s Acquisition 2.0 community. It then became a stand-alone initiative by the General Services Administration, the National Academy of Public Administration’s Collaboration Project, and the Industry Advisory Council where the groups simply asked for help by asking — very publicly — ideas about how the government procurement and contracting process can be improved.
The Better Buy Project has reached a significant new milestone — a open, public collaborative platform — a public wiki using the same software that runs Wikipedia. GSA courageously is looking for thoughts on how to build a better contract, specifically focusing on the Data.gov contract… and the effort to replace a GSA servers.