When you think of government, the words efficiency and innovation probably don’t come to mind. Rather, we probably conjure images of long lines at the DMV or the healthcare.gov rollout that made the tech industry cringe.
But behind the scenes, the Obama Administration has actually started changing the way the public sector operates, — thanks in large part to the work of America’s first Chief Technology Officer, Aneesh Chopra.
Chopra, a former Secretary of Technology in Virginia, helped introduce innovations like calling for apps to support equal pay, adapting lean startup principles to create new government organizations, and promoting 21st century energy policy through a SmartGrid that even caught the attention of Silicon Alley venture capitalist, Fred Wilson.
Now, in a new book called Innovative State: How New Technologies Can Transform Government, the former Obama official lays out his ideas for how to keep up with this fast-changing world through an “Open Innovator’s Toolkit”, a recipe for a more efficient, responsive and tech-savvy government based on these four principles:

  • Open data — allowing outside innovators to tap into troves of public data can support the creation of tools and services that the government couldn’t dream of, let alone execute on their own.
  • Convening — needing to bring the public and private sectors together to work collaboratively on lowering barriers to entry for business, increasing competition, and provide better services to the people.
  • Challenges and prizes — using incentives to pay for results over rhetoric and ultimately, getting a better return on the taxpayer’s dollar.
  • Attracting talent— recruiting entrepreneurs into government and creating a lean startup culture around narrow, clearly defined goals.

Throughout the book, Chopra provides several compelling examples of these principles in action, like attracting the talented Presidential Innovation Fellows to update federal contracting, or when Executives in Residence at the FDA improved regulatory process that led to faster approval of proposed medical devices.
Given these examples “Government 2.0” may still sound about as interesting as a DMV line to many of us, but Chopra’s innovations have led to real change and inspired nerds, data geeks and entrepreneurs to focus their energy and attention on tackling big problems.
Though public policy may lack the flash of Silicon Valley, these efforts can make a major impact on the lives — and wallets — of Americans.