FDA’s Innovation Suite – The Transformative Potential of Space

Space does matter!  Logically, it makes sense that one’s physical environment can play a critical role in breeding and growing new ideas and solutions.  Do you think more open space to collaborate with colleagues, natural light, and whiteboards to brainstorm would stimulate more creativity in your work?  The body of literature and experiments with space as it influences innovation has been growing.   In fact, earlier this year, the HHS IDEA Lab team spent one week working out of different areas in the General Services Administration’s (GSA) 1800 F. Street building to test, for ourselves, the influence of the built environment.   While more testing and measurement would better inform the conversation, I have personally observed the positive impact of a more open physical space on thinking and collaboration for myself and others. That’s why the grand opening of the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Innovation Suite in March is a powerful achievement worth highlighting. The FDA Innovation Suite is a newly constructed area on their White Oak Campus that includes three components:

  • The Innovation Lab – an open, hands-on collaboration space to identify and develop solutions that can advance FDA’s public health mission;
  • ASKIT Now Kiosk  – an efficient (they tested, it’s true!) on-site help desk solution that allows staff to walk up and receive information technology (IT) support from technicians on a variety of topics in real time; and
  • Office of Operations (OO) Hoteling space – a dynamic workspace for staff that are located off-campus that offers numerous open work stations, private offices for meetings, quiet rooms and plenty of natural light!

Apart from being slightly and openly envious of such a beautiful space, we were inspired by the spirit of collaboration that made the Innovation Suite a reality, as well as the transformational potential it holds. Walter Harris, the Chief Operating Officer at FDA, and one of the visionaries behind this effort, spoke at the opening event about how an abstract vision three years ago took shape and was realized through collaborative efforts – not only across FDA, but with other federal agencies that were willing to share examples and best practices. “The Innovation Suite demonstrates the power of collaboration and the desire from the Office of Operations to bring creative and effective solutions to some of FDA’s most urgent challenges,” shared Harris during his opening remarks at the event. The Innovation Lab led by Chief Health Informatics Officer, Dr. Taha A. Kass-Hout, is especially exciting to the HHS IDEA Lab not only because we share certain labels in common.  “The Innovation Lab will give our employees a space to challenge the status quo and turn bold ideas into practical solutions,” Dr. Kass-Hout commented at the event.  Music to our ears.  As we toured the Lab space which includes whiteboard walls for creative brainstorming and prototypes of data dashboards being developed for FDA’s use in advancing its important mission, I began to realize something larger at play – this is not only a wonderful milestone for FDA, this is an important moment for the growth of innovation at HHS as a whole. At the opening, Dr. Kass-Hout brought up the point that many of the useful things we use every day now, like our smart phones, began as seemingly crazy ideas.  Maybe growing innovation at HHS to develop even smarter solutions, within every Operating and Staff Division amongst 90,000 strong, is one of those crazy ideas?  With examples like that of the new FDA Innovation Suite, we may very well be on our way.  And remember, it all started with space and a good idea. For that reason, we hope that the opening of the FDA Innovation Suite, and hopefully other spaces like it in the future, will spark more measurement of effectiveness and more meaningful conversations around whether and how our federal work spaces can spur internal innovation.