Round Five of HHSinnovates Concludes & Lessons Learned

On Monday September 24, 2012 Secretary Sebelius announced the  winners of the fifth round of the HHSinnovates Program and the winner of the first ever “People’s Choice Award”.  For this competition, we saw projects initiated by numerous offices and agencies across the Department. For the first time ever, the HHSinnovates Program featured a “People’s Choice Award”, in which all six finalists were showcased for public voting.  The results were astronomical; nearly 18,000 votes were cast and more people than ever before were exposed to the great innovations led by HHS employees in collaboration with our partners. The three projects selected as the Secretary’s picks were the Food and Drug Administration’s 100,000 Genome Project, the Health Resources and Services Administration’s National Health Service Corps Jobs Center, and the Center for Disease Control’s Coal Dust Explosibility Meter.  In addition to being a Secretary’s pick, the Coal Dust Explosibility Meter was selected for the first ever People’s Choice Award.  The Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Thomas Friedan, personally accepted this award on behalf of his agency.  The three projects that were honorable mentions are the Indian Health Services’ Online Food Handler Training Project, the National Institutes of Health’s RePORT, and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases’ (NIAID) Free Stuff. In consultation with innovators, important and interesting lessons learned were identified.

  • Fail and fail fast – Fail? A concept not usually embraced in government, but the HHSinnovates program encourages risk-taking and the innovative spirit.  As noted at the awards ceremony by Dr. Thomas Friedan, “Fail early and fail often so long as we know we’re failing so we can adjust our way of working because ultimately we are going to be successful by getting that feedback loop and iteratively improving the effectiveness of our work.  Innovation is about continuous improvement.”   A key strategy used by many of our innovation teams was to divide their projects up into phases and to test out each phase as quickly as possible in order to discover the “failures” and correct them as expeditiously as possible.
  • Persistence Pays Off – There were six finalist teams in the fifth round HHSinnovates, out of an initial pool of 62 nominations; some of those submissions were from applicants who had previously submitted their project.  Those who resubmitted solicited input from the review team and improved their submissions and worked with others in their agency.
  • Don’t stop innovating because you did just enough – This has been a reoccurring theme for many of the finalists from the previous five rounds of HHSinnovates.  After being selected as an HHSinnovatesfinalist, many of the teams don’t stop innovating, they continue to work on their project to make it better, be it increasing functionality or making it scalable.  For example, of the most recent finalists,NIAID’s Free Stuff project team already has plans to scale their project to other parts of NIH, which may lead to savings of thousands of taxpayer dollars.  Ultimately, the HHSinnovates program celebrates HHS employees who solve critical problems, think in creative ways and implement innovative practices; just because the awards ceremony is over doesn’t mean teams stop progressing and innovating.

The next round of HHSinnovates starts October 22nd, with public voting occurring later this winter.  To watch the awards ceremony in its entirety and for more information on all past winners of the contest go to theHHSinnovates page. Congratulations to all the participants!