Innovate your Innovation Program: Why Your Innovation Program is Never Complete

Even if you have a great innovation program, you need to constantly learn what’s working and what’s not and adjust accordingly.

ARTICLE | Mar 19, 2019
by Greg Stopka, Strategy and Innovation Manager at the Park District of Oak Park

Failure to Launch

In 2015, the Park District of Oak Park started Launch Pad, a virtual platform to share and collaborate around new ideas in real-time. A cross-functional innovation team met monthly to award a portion of non-resident fees to launch new ideas. The program was initially very successful. We implemented a cistern, solar cell-phone chargers, among other ideas. We even won the Alliance’s prestigious J. Robert Havlick Award for Innovation in Local Government.

Launch Pad 2.0: Addressing Bias 

The only problem with this award-winning program? It wasn’t working.  We were seeing a decline in number of posts, there was little follow-through on ideas implemented, there was bias within the Innovation Team, and there was a lack of clear ROI from what was funded.  The Innovation Team realized we needed to innovate our innovation program.  The Team adopted new processes and engagement strategies in what we began to refer as Launch Pad 2.0.

First, we recognized that the Innovation Team wasn’t working as desired. Unfortunately, the vast majority of posters on Launch Pad were from the Recreation Department.  With a large portion of the Innovation Team made up of programmers, we felt we needed to limit the bias. We added three new members to the Team insuring all departments had representation. To address any perceived bias in the Team’s decisions, we also adopted a new criteria for what ideas the Team funded. Ideas are now ranked based on feasibility, effectiveness and connectivity to the organization overall.

Launch Pad 2.0: Streamlining

Another problem identified was that the Team had limited time to examine and debate all the ideas posted.  Recognizing that we should consider all ideas, the Team streamlined the process. We began meeting monthly with department heads to discuss the ideas that would impact them. Many departments liked the ideas so much that they agreed to implement them without the Innovation Team.  And for ideas that they could not support, we removed them from consideration. The result was the Innovation Team’s workload declined dramatically.  Also, we adopted a new monthly survey where members could vote on the ideas before the meetings. The ones that were unanimously yes, we automatically approved.  And the ones that required debate became the focus of the meetings.  

Launch Pad 2.0: Engagement

After building a new process around the Innovation Team, we began looking for new ideas to increase the amount of staff participating in Launch Pad. The group wanted to encourage more postings, comments, and votes on Launch Pad. The Team purchased Moon Pies and began giving them out at the all-staff meetings to the staff with the most engagement. Next, the Innovation Team sought to showcase the ideas launched. We adopted an award showcase every meeting where we gave out “Out of this World” awards to staff for new ideas planned. An unanticipated benefit was staff displaying their award on their desk, shelf, etc.  Having that visual around the office reinforced that Launch Pad was part of our culture. Finally, we wanted to show that innovation is about learning. We now award staff a skunk statue called the “Le Good Try” award.  Staff share why their idea didn’t work and what we can learn from it.

The results have been dramatic.  We have seen a massive increase in not only in total engagement but in the diversity of what departments participate.  In a program that used to be dominated by the Recreation Department, we now have participation from all departments.

A collection of “Out of this World” awards for ideas launched.

Lessons Learned

Even if you have a great innovation program, you need to constantly learn what’s working and what’s not and adjust accordingly. We knew that Launch Pad had not met its full potential so we tried out new strategies and relaunched. Without effective strategies around process and engagement, an innovation program will fail no matter how ambitious because culture is the most important part of innovation. Now that we have the vast majority of the organization participating in Launch Pad, we have the culture to address any large sticky problem. How do we address the human capital challenges with parks and recreation? How can we eliminate competition between programmers?  With our Launch Pad culture, we are ready to tackle these and more.

Greg Stopka is Strategy and Innovation Manager at the Park District of Oak Park. Contact Greg via email at Greg.Stopka@pdop.org.

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