Line 3 Copy 3 Created with Sketch. Back to blog

How To Guide Government Innovation from Within

January 28, 2021 / Dcode

Government innovation efforts may look different in 2021. 2020 brought a shift to widespread remote work, cybersecurity challenges, a remarkably swift reallocation of budget to address urgent needs, and a new normal for many federal workers.

All of these factors and more make innovation and modernization a necessity — and a tall order. The good news is that federal agencies can learn from those that have done it before as well as private sector partners focused on federal. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel here.

In our interactive courses for government leaders, we’ve seen firsthand the barriers government leaders face. We’ve worked with agencies like Veterans Affairs (VA), Health and Human Services (HHS), Department of Defense (DoD), and the General Services Administration (GSA), driving hundreds of MVPs and over $200 million in federal contracts to commercial tech.

Tackling the issue from both sides is vital for government innovation, and that’s just what Dcode helped AFWERX do with a series of products designed to not only help Air Force leaders understand the innovation lifecycle, emerging tech, and innovative procurement. This knowledge equips forward-leaning government leaders to find the best commercial tech that’s fully Vetted for Federal™ and ready to improve mission outcomes.

Dcode worked with AFWERX to help advance their innovation efforts by providing curriculum modules to successfully address government needs and problem statements, and bridge the gap between government and commercial tech.

Here’s how to move innovation efforts forward:

Shift culture

A culture shift is vital to break through internal barriers. Many federal innovation efforts are met with resistance, not because agencies don’t want to innovate, but because the culture doesn’t always allow for innovation.

Get started by thinking big, but acting small. Big changes are hard to visualize and mold into the existing infrastructure. Break down big picture ideas into small, iterative, measurable steps and prioritize these steps to make innovative visions a reality.

These principles are mirrored in AFWERX’s Innovation Handbook, providing a glimpse into how many of these guidelines actually work in the government innovation ecosystem.

Define problems

Arguably the most important step, defining the right problems is a surefire way to get innovation efforts headed in the right direction. Many solicitations and requests for proposals (RFPs) are overly prescriptive in the solutions they seek, when they should be specific about the problem that needs to be solved, broadening the opportunity for nontraditional tech and partners to respond.

An example in the wild: AFWERX understands this well and includes this recommendation in their handbook. Start with a problem set, prioritize those problems, and evaluate the most likely routes to solve them.

Implement tools and processes

The next step is to implement the tools and processes that will enable your organization to solve the problems identified by testing and delivering technology-based solutions.

Understanding how the government innovation ecosystem interacts with the tech industry as a whole will go a long way. That’s why Dcode teaches innovative acquisitions, rapid procurement methods, and how to hack the Federal Acquisitions Regulations (FAR) so federal organizations can find and work with the right commercial tech.

This is where AFWERX’s version in their handbook gets tactical, testing ideas, getting leadership buy-in, and working toward innovative procurement with purchasing officials.

Bring in the right solutions

With a problem identified and firm grasp on innovative procurement methods, it’s time to scout and evaluate tech solutions to be sure your agency is working with the right one.

Market research often seems like a box to check, but when done thoughtfully, it’s an essential tool to help your agencies find the best solutions. If market research alone isn’t fruitful, communicating with industry experts or finding a tech-scouting partner are all ways to expand the options of tech available.

AFWERX exemplifies this step in the Innovation Handbook and makes it actionable for government leaders to identify the right solutions. After defining a problem and getting tactical, they lay out how to find the right solution, find the right industry partners, perform market research, and develop a solid roll-out strategy.

Collaborate with the private sector

Lastly, government leaders can work with the private sector to stay ahead of the curve. Building relationships with emerging tech companies and industry experts can help your team see the big picture, learn the art of the possible, and scale tech solutions to solve mission challenges.

AFWERX breaks this step down in their Innovation Handbook to provide guidance for government leaders looking to scale solutions. They recommend developing a communication plan and Identifying the key stakeholders, desired outcomes, and product and customer acquisition strategy.

Getting started with innovation efforts doesn’t have to be a herculean task. Government leaders can get started by reaching out to others who have had success. Chances are, someone else is working on the same problem you have and can connect you with the right tech, partners, or mentors to fast-track your efforts.

Reach out to our government experts at to learn more about getting started with your innovation initiatives this year →