Innovation at Government Agencies: Making It Work



The Client

The Canada Revenue Agency interacts with millions of Canadians. It has a substantial workforce, spread from coast to coast. The agency collects taxes, administers tax law and delivers benefit programs for the federal government and many provincial and territorial governments as well.

How do you harness the creative energy of more than 40,000 workers dispersed across the country? The innovation process designed and taught by DFFRNT did just that.

The Challenge

A few years ago, CRA launched an innovation incubation program. For the second year of the program, they enlisted DFFRNT to scale up the effort and help move employee-generated ideas from idea to prototype.
CRA wanted to tap into the potential of employee-generated ideas and guide them from the idea stage to the concept and pitch stages, and maybe to prototype.

The innovation program solicited ideas from all departments, from engineering to customer service. All ideas were welcome.

They asked DFFRNT to build a curriculum to teach employees with ideas how to develop a good, viable concept.

Given the cyclical, process-heavy and risk-averse nature of government, the public sector often does not have people skilled in the kind of thinking and perspective needed to nurture innovation.

While CRA has knowledgeable project managers and designers, the organization found there was a lack of experience with managing “big I innovation.” That’s where DFFRNT’s experience comes in.

Very few people have actually studied and practiced innovation in any systematic and sustainable way. We have. To a lot of people, innovation is: Let’s get in a room, do a little bit of brainstorming and come up with some cool ideas. But when it comes to prototyping these solutions, making sure they align with organizational goals, scaling them and putting them into production, that’s where a lot of teams fall short. They don’t have an innovation process.

Shaun Illingworth,
Co-founder, DFFRNT

The Solution

DFFRNT embarked on a three-pronged strategy to help CRA scale up their innovation incubation program.

  1. DFFRNT performed an environmental scan of public sector innovation programs and reported on the strengths, weaknesses and best practices they found.
  2. DFFRNT developed an Innovation Bootcamp curriculum and instructed the participants.
  3. DFFRNT trained CRA employees who would administer this innovation accelerator program going forward. These employees were taught to present, moderate and teach the content DFFRNT had created for the courses aimed at idea-generating employees.

From the first call for ideas, 50 participants were selected to attend a four-day boot camp which included a series of courses covering:

  • An introduction to design thinking
  • Principles of innovation
  • Human-centred design
  • Value propositions, and
  • How to develop a concept and make a pitch

The train-the-trainer sessions investigated these topics in more detail, plus a few more.

We talked about mapping stakenolders and systems mapping, ideation, co-creation, understanding problems, prototyping and measuring.

The Outcome

The deliverable from the boot camp was essentially a pitch deck. Selected ideas were refined and fleshed out with more detail. The ideas were then evaluated against a matrix of design and business criteria that DFFRNT developed with CRA. This matrix provides a qualitative framework to measure ideas and select the most promising.

DFFRNT also provided support for the boot camp attendees and helped optimize their pitch to the executive team.

With the boot camp curriculum, an evaluation matrix, and trained innovation facilitators, CRA now has the in-house knowledge and capability to continue a periodic or sustained innovation incubation program.

The Results

CRA staff who went through the boot camp are enriched with more knowledge about design and innovation. They can now create a pitch that addresses relevant user, business and technological perspectives.

Others within the organization have been taught to develop selection criteria and evaluate which ideas are the most suitable for CRA to pursue. This group can also help the idea generators to flesh out their ideas and consider what resources are needed to bring their idea to the prototype phase.

CRA’s aim was to grow and expand their innovation incubation program. They have achieved an expanded program that the organization can now implement on its own, with in-house resources.

They are well-positioned from a knowledge and process perspective to drive this initiative forward.

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DFFRNT helped Canada Revenue Agency formulate and scale up an innovation incubation program, leaving them with the knowledge and processes to continue the program in-house.