Typically, innovation within the government moves at a snail’s pace, feeding the bureaucratic monster rather than targeting the most expedient approach at getting things done. Just look at the Healthcare.gov meltdown and you can see that the government’s model of building technology isn’t working. That’s why the General Services Administration launched a startup-like agency called 18F, testing the waters of lean, private-style innovation in a government setting.
Named for GSA’s location in Northwest at 18th and F streets, 18F will use lean startup practices, modern programming languages and open source code to build products for governmental agencies. Doesn’t sound like the federal government, does it?
“18F builds effective, user-centric digital services focused on the interaction between government and the people and businesses it serves,” the new website reads. “We help agencies deliver on their mission through the development of digital and web services. Our newly formed organization, within the General Services Administration, encompasses the Presidential Innovation Fellows program and an in-house digital delivery team.”
With the ability to tap into the Presidential Innovation Fellows, this program should be able to put its money where its mouth is in terms of operating like a lean startup. Several members of the 18F team have solid backgrounds in the startup world, such as Garren Givens, founder of Dibsie, and Raphael Villas, a graphic designer with experience at Groupon.
“Agencies should see 18F as a new way to procure, build and deliver innovative technology, digital services, and public-facing applications,” the team wrote on its 18F blog. “We operate using three models: for you, with you, or by you. We can build your solution for you; work with your team and provide additional expertise or core capacity; or consult on how to build or buy user-centric interfaces most effectively. 18F’s team of experts is here to help. After all, we all share the same goal of delivering incredible, easy-to-use digital services for the people and businesses we serve.”
This model could be fairly revolutionary for the traditional government model. While it’s not a huge deal, in just 29 minutes 18F was able to write and implement new code last week. Typically, that would’ve taken tons of time and meetings to make that happen.
“Like Lean Startup, we favor experimentation, customer feedback and analytics, and iterative design over a sequential “waterfall” model,” 18F wrote. “If startups and companies like General Electric can do it, why not the U.S. Government? Our goal with this approach is two-fold: build user-centered digital services, and prove that building technology in an agile manner is possible in government at scale.”