Beyond the Innovation Team: How to Build an Innovation Program that Engages Everyone

by the Park District of Oak Park, IL for the TLG 2019 Innovation Showcase program

Dec 19, 2018

Theme: Relentless Creativity

In 2014, the Park District formed an innovation team to create a way to encourage new ideas throughout the organization. We purchased an online portal we branded as Launch Pad to provide staff the ability to submit ideas, comment, and vote on them. We also allocated a small amount of funding to launch them. However, we encountered many challenges to make it work.

Process: We lacked a clear process to vet the ideas, develop them, and determine their successes. As a result, the Innovation Team formed a clear vetting and criteria process. In addition, we recognized the need to nurture ideas from conceptual to implementation. We built a project management structure to vet the ideas, develop them, and determine what was successful or not.

Scope: Initially, we struggled with adopting ideas beyond low-cost process improvement. We developed two new avenues: 1) Big Ticket Items-for items that require substantial cost, we now use pitch sessions similar to the show Shark Tank. All staff vote on which big ticket items they want to fund. 2) Big Challenges-we also now have the innovation team itself using design thinking principles to address organizational-wide challenges.

Engagement: Launch Pad provides a venue for all staff to participate in innovation but we struggled to get participation beyond a small group. To combat this problem, we have implemented an awards program that encourages participation. We recognize every staff members' idea that we launch/fund, provide Moon Pie treats to the staff members with the highest comments and ideas posted, and annual plaques for the top community impact and internal improvement ideas. We also have monthly challenges and group activities to encourage posts.

Finally, we have a “Le Good Try Award,” a small skunk statue that recognizes ideas that don’t work. 

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