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The HHS IDEA Lab – What is it?

CaptureEditor’s Note: strives to expand the use of new media in government as a means of improving outreach and education about HIV/AIDS and advancing public health. In a similar way, the new HHS IDEA Lab is leveraging the power of the Web and new media to help create a more modern and efficient government that can better serve the public.

Earlier this year, the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) launched the HHS IDEA Lab. With it, we unveiled a consolidated structure for the innovation activities at the Department of Health and Human Services, flashy new branding and a website. But when we launched, we weren’t totally clear on what the main message for the HHS IDEA Lab was, and over the past 6 months we heard the question – what is the HHS IDEA Lab all about? So we have looked at ourselves, focused on what your needs are to solve problems, become an entrepreneur, or just learn new skills, and have clearly defined what the HHS IDEA Lab is.

So let’s start from the top.

Across our 11 agencies, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is teeming with talented individuals who work to protect the health of the American people and provide critical human services.

Many of these individuals have new ideas or have identified game-changing solutions to problems in government and health care but have no way of acting on them.

That’s where the HHS IDEA Lab comes in.

Untitled-2At the IDEA Lab, we are striving to better harness the talent of the workforce at HHS and remove barriers HHS employees are faced with so they can act. We are developing resources to help HHS Operating Divisions/Staff Divisions advance its modernization and problem solving abilities with the goal of streamlining processes, improving services, and refining the way we meet our mission. Simply put, we help people find ways to solve problems and we are doing this through a three pronged approach:

  • We are encouraging internal entrepreneurship by investing in HHS employees;
  • We recognize that we don’t have all the answers inside government and are bringing in external talent to help; and
  • We are building communities of like-minded people across HHS to take on issues of strategic importance.

And we have seen some real impact so far. We have seen that small investment can lead to big impact. For example, within our internal accelerator HHS Ignite, a team from the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) tested a more intuitive way to present data used by States to guide program decisions. This led to further investment by ACF and full implementation and scaling to other parts of the organization.

We have also seen some significant impact on the health care system, as demonstrated by David Cartier, an Entrepreneur-in-Residence who worked with the Health Resources and Services Administration to modernize the organ procurement and transplantation system. David has developed and field-tested a prototype that transforms the paper and pencil management of organ procurement and transplantation into a more efficient and reliable technology driven process.

2And we have seen a considerable impact within the communities we have spun up to improve processes such as procurement, open data and collaborative communication. One of the largest impacts we have seen has come from the Health Data Initiative, which has led to a cross-departmental and cross-governmental community of open data. At HHS, the initiative is responsible for the liberation of over 1,600 health data sets and has contributed to the growth of the health care start-up ecosystem.

To date, the HHS IDEA Lab has brought 16 Entrepreneurs-in-Residence into government, has invested in 27 HHS employee projects and has engaged 1,004 HHS employees with IDEA Lab-related activities.

As we continue to invest in new ideas, solve complex problems and build a community of innovators in the Department, the better we can deliver on our mission to serve the American people.

If you want to get involved right away, consider applying to participate in our internal accelerator for ideas, HHS Ignite. We are accepting applications from October 1 – 31, 2014. More information on HHS Ignite and the application process can be found on the HHS Ignite page.

If you want to keep up with HHS IDEA Lab activities, subscribe to our mailing list and receive periodic updates.