So … what does it really mean to “innovate”? The term is thrown around a lot. It can sometimes feel like a simple task. Just come up with good ideas, right?
Eh … not quite.
Those bold enough to really roll up sleeves and dig in know how hard this thing called “innovation” can be. Those who have tried to start a new business or change an embedded process will tell you, innovation is far more than just coming up with an idea. It’s often a long hard slog through deeply understanding your customer’s needs, designing within constraints, testing and changing your design based on feedback, and implementing new products or services within an existing machine (and hitting major roadblocks along the way.). And sometimes the obstacles within the federal government are even more compounded (VA is no exception). VA innovators face challenges operating in a complex health care system all the while making sure that Veterans across America are truly getting the best care anywhere.
Innovation is not a “nice to have.” It is a critical aspect of VA’s ability to continue to modernize and evolve to best serve Veterans.
With this in mind, the VA’s Center for Innovation began the VA Innovators Network to create a place for VA to develop new ideas in collaboration with Veteran communities. In an effort to equip VA employees with the best tools for innovation, VA Center for Innovation started an annual accelerator. The ultimate goal of the accelerator is to provide pathways for VA employees to tangibly re-imagine the way VA serves Veterans.
An accelerator is a method of innovation often used in the tech and business start-up community, and refers to a focused and concentrated effort over a 3-to- 6-month period intended to jump start innovation to launch a project to serve customers. In VA’s case, that’s Veterans health, compensation, and benefits. Accelerators have enabled the development of innovative businesses such as Airbnb and Dropbox. Accelerators equip employees with the skills, resources, and mindsets to launch, develop, and scale new products and services. They also help people cut through dreaded “red tape” and roadblocks to get to an innovative solution off the ground.
The Center for Innovation launched its’ second accelerator as a part of the VA Innovators Network. With more than 100 VA innovators gathering, they shared their ideas and swapped notes on how to best implement them. Diverse ideas flooded in, ranging from a cane clip for motorized wheelchairs to entirely new ways to schedule patients as well as a universal symbol that indicates where mental health support is located.
The VA Innovators Network is a part of a larger effort to modernize the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Our goal is to help enhance the customer experience for Veterans and their families by fostering Department-wide innovations that can quickly spread from idea to incubation and evaluation, and ultimately implementation nationwide. New approaches to serve Veterans are sourced directly through the Innovators Network, transformed into reality by the accelerator and distributed throughout the VA network by the VA Diffusion of Excellence Initiative.
Extending a network of support, instruction on the power of co-design, and bureaucracy busting techniques: this is what the VA Innovators Network Accelerator is all about.
Check out the full list of the accelerator innovations here.
Wander the full story here.
Andrea Ippolito is the VA Innovators Network Lead at VA Center for Innovation, Department of Veterans Affairs