There are sparks of little-known innovations happening throughout VA thanks to a tool that helps front-line employees solve everyday problems.
The tool brings clarity, transparency and efficiency to unexpected places in VA, such as human resource departments, medical clinics and hospitals, and benefits and finance departments. The real-time data informs employees’ insights into VA business processes. Best of all, it’s adding predictability and reliability to processes that once lacked both.
What is this tool sparking grassroots innovations at VA? It’s an open-source solution called Light Electronic Action Framework (LEAF) created by VA employee Michael Gao. The application is modernizing business processes by reducing manual, labor-intensive efforts to their essential steps and automating them.
“LEAF is flipping the government modernization model by empowering front-line employees with the ability to modernize their everyday workflow,” said LEAF Chief Learning Officer Susan Hall. “It crowd sources these activities to employees, and they’re the ones selecting the processes to update and automate.”
As LEAF reaches different VA constituencies, employees are using it in remarkable ways – uses that go beyond what its developer thought possible.
At the Portland, Oregon VA Medical Center, LEAF is powering a real-time graphical dashboard of quality-of-care indicators to improve care delivery. In Washington D.C., LEAF is expediting telehealth care delivery when disasters strike with a portal where health care providers can volunteer their services online. In North Carolina, hiring decision approvals that once took 48 days now require just 22 days. At the Phoenix VA LEAF is being used to help identify and quickly fill unexpected staffing absences to cover scheduled appointments.
One common thread unites these diverse LEAF applications – front-line personnel saw a problem in their workplace and used LEAF to solve it.
“Our employees often wonder how they can get involved in modernization,” said Dr. Carolyn Clancy, deputy under secretary for Discovery, Education and Affiliate Networks. “LEAF is unique because it puts frontline employees in the driver’s seat of these efforts.”
Across VA and nearly every government agency, data silos are a major obstacle to advancement. LEAF breaks down those silos.
“LEAF saves us a tremendous amount of time,” said Lisa Grigsby, director of Human Resources at the Atlanta VAMC. “It allows us to track the recruitment process from the moment a manager requests to hire or back fill a position. It enables total transparency and provides information that was not available at any point since I’ve been at the VA.”
Best of all, LEAF is highly cost-effective. Because LEAF was developed by the government with open source components, there are no additional licensing fees as the user base grows. Notably, the platform already supports 85 business processes and 39,000 active monthly users.
LEAF boasts a built-in forms library that functions like an internal app store for business processes. Beyond facilitating LEAF use and accelerating local implementations, the library promotes standardization of best practices.
LEAF is like the little engine that could – and it’s gaining steam. So much so that VA held a national conference in April where a loyal following of superusers gathered to broaden their skills, network and collaborate with peers from across the nation.
Conference attendees were led through a series of interactive workshops to help take the LEAF platform to new heights. There was even a Shark Tank‒style competition where developers of innovative LEAF applications pitched and demonstrated application ideas to a panel of VA leaders who judged the presentations and declared a winner.
“LEAF captures the essence of the revitalization underway at VA,” says Hall. “At the heart of every LEAF process automation is a user-centered design that takes customer needs into account.”
Blake Henderson, Acting Director, Diffusion of Excellence, Veterans Health Administration