This post was originally published on the DigitalGov blog. Angela Colter is the Acting Executive Director of 18F. Adam Drake and Justin Koufopoulos are Presidential Innovation Fellows.
We are often asked, just how is the Presidential Innovation Fellows (PIF) program different from 18F? Both teams work from within the General Services Administration (GSA) and are part of the division called Technology Transformation Services (TTS). Since the beginning of the two programs, PIF and 18F have collaborated on critical work for the United States. That includes supporting cancer patients, U.S. marines, and scientific researchers to name just a few. We have unique strengths. We have found that when we work together, our strengths combine in exciting ways to help government agencies modernize their technology, and better meet the needs of citizens and their missions.
A unique strength of the PIF program is on-site technical leadership and strategy. PIFs are hired by agencies to work alongside senior staff, policy-makers, and technical teams. Usually an agency will hire between one to three PIFs. PIFs help senior leaders tackle ambiguous mission-critical challenges. For example, “what’s our customer experience strategy?” or “where should we use artificial intelligence?” Our goal is to help agencies navigate these complex topics by building trust across the organization, provide technical leadership where there are gaps in existing teams, and delivering successes to those teams.
On the other hand, a unique strength of 18F is in assembling small, remote teams to work on a particular product or service within an agency. We take a phased approach to our work, starting with a short discovery phase, followed by prototyping phase to test potential ideas with users. Our goal with these engagements is to not only to facilitate learning about the needs of the people using the service, but helping the partner team develop the skill set necessary to take on maintenance and development of the system.
At the National Library of Medicine (NLM), PIF and 18F combined strengths to bring an outside perspective to its efforts to make clinical trials and research more readily available to citizens and patients. The NLM, part of the National Institutes of Health, is the home of our nation’s scientific and medical knowledge and a leader in biomedical informatics and data science research. PIF and 18F helped the NLM apply advanced user-centered design approaches to high-priority NLM services by providing a combination of in-house strategy, training, workshops, planning, and design implementation. These shared efforts allowed both teams to bring their strengths to common problems and provide a more cohesive strategy to usability improvements and technology practices. Ultimately, these combined efforts were far more successful than any single effort would have been by either PIF or 18F.
PIF and 18F have also had great results collaborating with the United States Marine Corps. The Marine Corps is our nation’s premier force in readiness and is currently engaging in a variety of technology transformation projects, relating to everything from logistics and supply chain software applications to methods and strategies for improving cloud computing initiatives. By bringing together the strategic, technical, and organizational advising capabilities of PIF and the implementation-focused efforts of 18F, the joint projects have gained speed and cohesiveness that would have been otherwise impossible. Through the complementary focus areas of PIF and 18F, projects are able to get representation and stakeholder engagement at a variety of levels, which ensures excellent communication and speed of execution.“It’s great to see PIFs collaborating with 18F on a project with the United States Marine Corps. These shared efforts allowed both teams to bring their strengths to common problems and provide a more cohesive IT modernization and culture change strategy. We will be doing more of this,” says Anil Cheriyan, Director of Technology Transformation Services at GSA.